Politics of Poor Plight and Prophetic Priorities: A Brief Response to Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney recently made an interesting comment about his lack of concern for poor people. According to him, we need not care about poor people because America has a safety net. Rather, he is concerned with America’s middle class because they are the ones who are struggling. Yes, that’s right, the people with more resources than poor people are the ones who are hurting most in this economy, according to Mitt’s logic.

While I am thankful that we do have a safety net in America, considering the thousands who have died from the famine in the Horn of Africa in the past year, I can not fathom how one could argue that poor people are doing well in America and the middle class is the group suffering most. This is so ridiculous that I won’t spend any more on that point.

However, as a Black Anabaptist Christian shaped by the Israelite scriptures and it’s fulfillment in the person of Jesus, I have particular priorities that shape my own ethics/politics. My Jubilee-Shalom-Kingdom of God politics must always prioritize “the least of these” among us, to not do so would be to disregard God’s  intervention and revelation in the world, particularly the Bible. The Bible clearly keeps watch of, defends, and centralizes the concerns of poor people throughout the entire narrative. To be in continuity with the God of scripture, and specifically Jesus the Crucified One, we must embrace the same ethics concerning poverty that is consistently woven throughout scripture. It compels us to embody Jesus’ story now in our own contexts. A faithful reading of scripture demands from us particular prophetic priorities to enact if we are to claim to be Christian (Christ-like), and they are not really optional. One of those ethical priorities is our care, sacrifice, and provision for the poor. To state that you do not care for poor people is to reject the Israelite narrative and ultimately to reject Jesus, that is assuming we can not slice him up and then choose which parts we like and which we do not like as if Jesus were a buffet line.

Sorry Mitt, but you have absolutely no credibility with me. (Neither do any of the other candidates, so please don’t take this as an endorsement for anyone). Finally, let me make myself clear by stating that as far as I am concerned, both major political parties in America are off the mark when it comes to the issue of poverty. One party (in my eyes) is aggressively against poor people, and the other (again from my perspective) pays lip service and offers a few minimal government programs, however each fall drastically short of the Jubilee paradigm from the Old Testament that Jesus continues to echo in his own ministry. As Christians, our ethics and political priorities ought not be confined to the arguments of the day between two imperial political parties, but ought to begin and end with theological vision rooted deeply in scripture and particularly in Jesus the Christ, as they are manifested in love for God and others.

Here is a tiny fraction of the biblical passages that remind us that we ought to prioritize the poor as a part of our Christian ethics and witness.

Psalms 82:3 “Defend the cause of the poor and the fatherless! Vindicate the oppressed and suffering!”

James 2:5-8 “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Did not God choose the poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom that he promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor! Are not the rich oppressing you and dragging you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme the good name of the one you belong to? But if you fulfill the royal law as expressed in this scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

Dueteronomy 15:11 “There will never cease to be some poor people in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your fellow Israelites who are needy and poor in your land.”

Proverbs 14:31 “The one who oppresses the poor insults his Creator, but whoever shows favor to the needy honors him.”

Luke 6:20 “Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.”

Ezekiel 16:49  “‘See here – this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had majesty, abundance of food, and enjoyed carefree ease, but they did not help the poor and needy.”

Galatians 2:10 “They requested only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.”

1 John 3:17 “But whoever has the world’s possessions and sees his fellow brother in need and shuts off his compassion against him, how can the love of God reside in such a person?”

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Luke 2: A Shepherd’s Christmas Story on the Margins (Reflection 3)

Luke 2:9-10 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:

I can’t imagine what was going through the shepherd’s minds as these angels appeared before them. We do know that they are terrified, and I am sure they could not fathom any good reason why they would have such an encounter. They were just some everyday, round the way, shepherds’, trying to feed their families, trying to survive Roman oppression, and trying to keep their dignity in the midst of death-dealing marginalization. And yet it was to them whom the angels are sent, and it was these shepherds that were entrusted with the most important life-giving messages. This message of good news goes first to the marginalized. It was a life changing announcement that would change everything. This was a message that brings hope to the poor, uplifts the broken hearted, revitalizes the tired, liberates the oppressed, and declares that the Jubilee of God’s Kingdom has broken into our world.

Verse 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.

And here is what that good news that they shared was. It was that on that day, a savior, a deliverer, a liberator was to born in the city of David. He is the Messiah, the awaited King of Israel who was prophesied about in the Jewish scriptures. This Messiah, this Christ is the true Lord.  For us then that means that all those counterfeit lords that demand our full allegiance will be exposed as the frauds and fakes that they are in the moment of complete revelation and ultimate consummation. For Jesus is the fullness of the Deity in bodily form. He is the same Yahweh who made covenant and relationship with the Israelites. He is the same God who spoke all creation into existence. And it is in and through Him that all things are held together. He is Jesus the Christ.

Verse 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Can you imagine how elated these shepherds must have been at this moment? Angels had just revealed to them the greatest news in all of human history, a message that will bring great joy to the world, because the liberator and king, the prophesied Christ on that day is to be born. But notice the sign that the angels give, which will identify Jesus to the shepherds as the Messiah. They told them that they would find Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords… laying in a feeding trough. That is the way that they will identify Jesus. He won’t be identified because of some royal procession, he won’t be identified for being born in a palace, and he won’t be identified because of a royal announcement that was given. No instead, he would be recognized for being born in some little town out in the country, laying in a humble feeding trough. The very location and circumstance of his birth was a symbol and sign of solidarity with the socially outcast. It bears witness to the fact that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something.” And so we must consider the significance of why the Most High God would choose to express himself in such lowly way. Howard Thurman, in his classic book Jesus and the Disinherited, noted three things that are often ignored about Jesus’ birth and life. 1st was that Jesus was Jewish culturally, religiously, and ethnically. 2nd Jesus was poor. And 3rd, Jesus lived a subdominant and oppressed life under the rule of the Roman Empire. These are more than merely interesting facts about Jesus, given that these are the precise ways that God chose to reveal himself to the world, it demonstrates God’s solidarity with the majority of the world who struggle in poverty and oppression. And it is in the place of marginalization that God has chosen to be victorious over sin and death, and over rulers and authorities. Jesus birth in the manger is a protest against the powers of this world that denigrate the dispossessed. In his incarnation, Jesus dismisses the narrative of the powerful and insists that the good news is for all. That is all who are willing to abandon self and embrace Jesus and His Kingdom.

Drive-thru Readings

We love quick interpretations and applications for our life when we read the Bible. The slow process of reading and surveying the whole book, seeking to learn about the ancient context, putting the text we are reading in light of the whole biblical narrative, and reading everything in light of and through the context of Jesus’ life… well all that just seems to take too long. We want a microwaved instant reading. We want to get our truth and relevance for our problem quick and fast. We don’t want to commit to a lifestyle of study and meditation. We want to pull up make our order, and get our product and drive off. How might our instant and immediate driven culture affect how we read the Bible? Maybe John Legend is right, “maybe we should take it slow”? Freestyle with me…

The Death and Ressurection of Christ

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are extremely important days in the Christian calendar.  All around the globe believers will be taking this time to focus on the sacrifice that Jesus made through his death on the cross as well as the hope and assurance we receive through His resurrection.

Typically this time is seen as our time to be grateful for Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, for the fact that we have our sins forgiven, and because we are justified before God.  While I agree and affirm all these things, I do wonder if gratitude meets God’s desires from us as a response, or if He expects more.  Should the cross be something to merely be thankful for, or should this time of reflection also include our personal reflection challenging ourselves on how our lives can be shaped by the cross as well?

If our response to the cross is limited to (or mostly focused on) gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice, could it tend to promote a Christianity without cost? We all must ask ourselves whether the cross is something merely done for us, or is it something that we are also called to?  If it is just done for us then we can be thankful, and as well be comfortable because we are good to go… however if we are called to share Jesus’ death and resurrection then there is a cost assumed as well.  What is this cost?  What would a life modeling and imitating the cross of Jesus look like in the 21st Century?

In America, we are known for being a bit petty… we have the habit of associating anything that does not go the way we want or anytime we are not completely comfortable, with the term suffering.  Our heater breaks for a day in our house and we call it suffering, we wear a Christian T-Shirt and get funny look and we call it suffering, we don’t get a good parking space on Sunday morning close to the church and we call it suffering. Someone has the sniffles when they wake up and they are suffering.  I do not want to trivialize many of our daily struggles, however I think our excessive comforts in America make it hard for us to envision living a life of the cross biblically in our context.  And while I do think we can suffer as Christians in America, I am not quite sure taking prayer out of schools, or removing the 10 commandments from the courthouse can adequately be termed suffering when we remember Jesus’ death, the first 300 years in which the church was persecuted, or the global persecution that Christians face all around the world currently.

Freestyle with me on this, what does it mean to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow Jesus in our time and context?

It’s Friday… But Sundays Coming

A true freestyle theologian does not merely observe Good Friday and Ressurection Sunday, but rather they also seek to find out what practical implications there are from these biblical principles for their communities.  Freestyle with me, are there areas of despair in your life and in society that just seem hopeless?  How can Sunday invade those areas of life and community?  How might Sunday be coming for you?

Making Trouble…

Rugged Cross I was really struggling the other day and continue to do so. When I talk to a lot of Christians I feel like I am always “edgy” to some degree.  And I begin to wonder if I really ought to be so controversial.  I mean, we are the body of Christ, so why am I always stirring the pot. At times, it can seem devicive. And so I must wrestle with myself and my role I often play among the body of Christ.

On the other hand, I read about Christ according to the four gospels.  And Jesus while very much a loving person, was constantly creating moments of tension, acting out at times, and at times infuriating some of those around Him.  It seems clear that Jesus’ philosphy was comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. The religious, political, and economically powerful of his time were always being challenged whether directly or indirectly.  Jesus preached a sermon, and afterward they were so offended they wanted to throw him off the cliff.  He went to Jerusalem (the big show) and first thing he did was go into the temple stirring up trouble.

His motto for his followers was extremely radical, “take up your cross and follow me”.  We water that down now in our time, because most of us do not relate to the threat of being crucified (similar to being lynched in post civil war times in America) because you are a Jew under the control of a larger empire. Mere subversive words, let alone action, could have you hanging on a tree. I could go on and on… my point is that Jesus was extremely controversial (especially with the powerful and comfortable).

I guess I struggle with what this calls us to in our time and context.  I know exactly what would logically be concluded as our proper response to imitating such a radical leader. I pretend like I don’t know the answer in hope of not wanting to be held accountable for not living up to that standard. Yet the call to follow Christ remains steadily before me.

Compared to many Christians I feel controversial, compared to Christ I feel Cowardly.  Freestyle with me… are you a trouble maker (and for what cause)? Or rather do you think we should all go along so that we can all get along? Finally, after mediating on Jesus’ example left for us, does that impact or shape your response?

Trickle Down – Part 3 “The Sound of Wealth”

Have you ever heard the sound of wealth? Listen carefully to the sound of wealth… Remember, wealth is not your income it is all your assets minus all your debt. This includes your house, your car, money in the bank, etc. Listen…

After “hearing” that, how might that affect how we understand our society, if it does at all? What might a Christ shaped response look like? How might the covenant community (aka the church) respond collectively? Flow with me…

Reading Jesus in the OT Part 2

“Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”  When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?  Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. (Genesis 37:20-28)

Does this sound familiar?  How does Joseph play a Christ like figure in the story? How does this text point us to the life of Christ?