Monthly Archives: February 2014

Economic Justice: Would Jesus Occupy? – syncroblog 2 on Spirit of the Poor

Standard

{This post is my contribution to the Spirit of the Poor syncroblog with Newell Hendricks, Esther Emery, and Luke Harms.   It is hosted this month by Luke Harms.}

sotp-button1

Why Occupy? 

The year the Occupy Wall Street movement took flight I was in my last year of seminary and was serving as a community organizer at A Just Harvest in the neighborhood of Rogers Park in Chicago for my Urban C.P.E. (Clinical Pastoral Education) placement.

That year, in addition to participating in economic justice campaigns, actions, and marches through my community organizing, I also decided to be a presence at the Occupy encampment downtown several afternoons or evenings.  Because Occupy became quite the controversial topic around the country and it was particularly debated among my fellow seminarians and/or clergy colleagues as to whether or not clergy should get involved in Occupy or other “political” movements, I was asked this question constantly that year:

Why Occupy?

…And though this movement has lost its momentum, the issues thousands of people across the U.S. were Occupying for still remain, and many community organizers, clergy, and community members across the country continue to march.

So why Occupy?  Why take a public stand?

It is a daunting question to answer, as there are so many problems with the current economic and housing crises that have led to such large movements.  Though the list is long, here are a few of the many reasons to take a stand:

INEQUALITY GAP:

According to Henry Blodget in his article Charts: Here’s What the Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About in Business Insider, three years after the financial crisis, unemployment rates in the U.S. were still at the highest level since the Great Depression; jobs are scarce and at least about 14 million Americans who want to work could not find jobs; and the number of Americans with jobs were at the lowest its been since the 1980s.  And though the U.S. economy is adding more jobs and the unemployment rate is now the lowest its been in 5 years, its still “unacceptably high” – according to economic advisor Jason Furman.  Moreover, some of the reasons for the decline in unemployment rates are that more Americans over 16 are dropping out of or not even entering the labor force in the first place, and the longevity of unemployment status in growing.

At the same time, corporate profits hit another all-time high and CEO pay is now 350 times the average worker’s pay.

And according to a 2011 report released by the Congressional Budget Office, in the last 30 years the incomes of the top 1% of Americans increased 275% and the income for the next richest Americans increased 65% while the income of middle class households increased only 40% and the lowest incomes increased only 18%.

Moreover, in terms of net worth, the top 1% percent of Americans own 42% of the financial wealth in the country and the top 5% own 70% of this country’s wealth.

The crisis does not end here.

The richest 1% of Americans have a lower aggregate tax rate than the next 9% of Americans, and this tax rate is not much higher than it is for everyone else in the country.  On top of all this, a few years ago, the banks were bailed out with $14 trillion in taxpayer funds in order to help put money back into the economy and now currently hold $1.64 trillion in cash reserves – the highest its held in history.  Nevertheless, instead of lending to American businesses, banks were buying risk-free treasury bonds and collecting interest for their own profit.

At the same time, while banks and large corporations are still not paying their fair share in taxes, major budget cuts are constantly being proposed on programs for the people who need programs the most.  And the list of issues about this large inequality gap between the rich and the poor and the economic crisis goes on and on.

HOUSING CRISIS :

In addition to all this, the U.S. is suffering tremendously from the housing crisis.  According to The New Bottom Line’s The Win/Win Solution, the banks were responsible for the housing crisis because of their practices of predatory lending and subprime mortgages.  And now, after the Great Recession and the housing crash, thousands of home-owners have been and continue to be at risk of foreclosure.  As of March 31, 2011, in the U.S., 23% of homeowners had fallen underwater on the mortgages and together owed $709 billion more than what their homes were worth to the banks.  And though the housing market seems to be improving since 2012, the housing crisis is from being over.   While the number of households that are underwater are lower than they were during the Great Recession, they are still quite high.  According to a recent report, 6.4 million homeowners still owe more on their mortgages than what their homes are worth.  Additionally, since September 2008, a total of about 4.9 million homes have been foreclosed.  While this January, CoreLogic reports there were around 48,000 home foreclosures per month – which is down from around 59,000 in January 2013 – this is still far greater than the number of foreclosures in 2000-2006, which averaged about 21,000 home foreclosures per month.

Moreover, as more foreclosures take place in particular neighborhoods, the other homes in these neighborhoods lose value.  And since unemployment and/or unfair work wages have become the leading cause of the foreclosure crisis, the “housing crisis and jobs crisis fuel each other.”

… And thus, even with a little improvement over the last 5 years, this cycle continues…

RACIAL INEQUALITY:

Furthermore, the economic and housing crises have and continue to affect communities of color at some of the highest levels, and they are creating a larger racial inequality gap in the U.S.  For more details, see: “Wasted Wealth: How the Wall Street Crash Continues to Stall Economic Recovery and Deepen Racial Inequality in America.” 

…It is for all of these reasons – and many more – that a few years ago thousands of people were camping out on the streets for weeks at a time across the country occupying Wall Street and their cities, and many continue to stand and march for justice.

(Check out this short overview video about how we reached this crisis and the how to create a new bottom line): 

____________________________________

Occupy the Temple?

So, given the current situation, what does the Bible say about this?

Would Jesus support the Occupy movement and other organizing campaigns?  Would Jesus be okay with clergy and communities of faith participating in such public actions?

Well, for starters, we can look at several of the similarities between the economic situation in the U.S. today and the economic situation of First Century Palestine – which was an important issue for many of the biblical writers and particularly that of Luke.

Just like in the U.S. today, the economic gap between the rich and the poor at the time the Gospel of Luke was written was extremely large.  While the lower and middle classes made up the majority of the population – at least 90% – the small group of elites owned most of the wealth, received special treatment, often did not work for their wealth, and increased their wealth at the expense of the poor.  Additionally, there were great numbers of people who were labeled by society as unemployable – such as the lame and the lepers – and there were no governmental programs that enabled these people to have something to fall back on so that they could take care of themselves.

Not only this, but many of the religious leaders – for instance, the Sadducees and the scribes in Jerusalem – were part of this elitist class and used the temple as a place where they could gain financial profit at the expense of the poor and marginalized.  We see examples of this throughout Luke and particularly in chapters 19 through the beginning of 21.  In chapter 19, Jesus enters the temple, drives out all who were selling in it and declares that several of the religious leaders, merchants, and money changers turned what should be a house of prayer into a den of robbers.

According to Jim Wallis in his book Rediscovering Values, on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street: A Moral Compass for the New Economy, Jesus’ anger in this chapter is not necessarily directed at the selling of items in the temple itself.  In other words, having a “gift shop” or a bake sale or rummage sale in a church today is not necessarily the problem.  Rather, Jesus’ anger here is about something deeper which related to the time of the event – during the Passover.  At this time of the year, pilgrims would travel long distances – often from different countries – in order to get to the temple in Jerusalem.  Once they got to the temple, they were supposed to make sacrifices.  These travelers would not be able to transport livestock from their homes on this long journey to the temple, so the merchants and money changers would sell animals to these travelers in the outer court of the temple in order for them to have something to sacrifice.

However, since the merchants had full control over the livestock for sacrifices, the money changers would inflate the currency rate (because there was only one type of coin that was accepted in the temple).

And this is when Jesus flipped his lid

and the tables in the temple…

literally. 

JESUSOCCUPY

And what Jesus was most ticked off about was that God’s worship place was being turned into a “den of robbers,” where few who had control over the market “accumulated great wealth for themselves at the expense of those who could least afford to pay.”[1]

…What Jesus was angry about was greed and actions made by the people in the temple that took advantage of the poor.

As Wallis states:

“No doubt these money changers would have argued that they were only responding to a demand of the market, but Jesus didn’t seem to see it that way.  What was happening in the marketplace was a spiritual and moral problem, not just an economic one.”[2]

Wallis goes on to ask the question:

So do Christians have a responsibility to turn over the tables of an unjust market?  Furthermore, as the body of Christ, which is the new temple, do we need to provide an economic witness in the marketplace that reflects God’s values of compassion, fairness, and justice?”[3]

Here, as Jesus turns over the tables, we see a Jesus who is furious at the unjust system of the marketplace that was taking advantage of the poor in order for few to satisfy their greed.  And not only does He get angry here, but He also confronts those who are taking advantage of the poor in these ways.

…In His temple outburst, Jesus teaches us that “there are some things that we all should get angry about, that there are situations where the only appropriate response is confrontation.”[4]

After Jesus cleanses the temple in Luke, He continues to teach in the temple and confront and stand up against leaders who take advantage of the marginalized.  In the end of chapter 20, He warns His disciples about the scribes – who walk around in long robes, like to receive special attention and high honors in public places, and who devour widows’ houses.  And in the first four verses of chapter 21, Jesus points out an example of how the elite devoured these widow’s houses: by allowing a poor widow to place two coins – all that she had to live on – into the treasury, and thus leaving her to fend for herself in such a brutal society with no money.

It is because of Jesus’ radical teachings and actions in the temple and throughout the rest of Luke that we might not just ask the questions: “would Jesus support Occupy?… Would Jesus support community organizers, clergy, and communities of faith as they take a public stand?”  But hopefully, these radical actions that we read about will also lead us to consider: if these events occurred today, was Jesus actually occupying the temple?  Was Jesus actually getting ready to organize an economic justice campaign that was carried out throughout His ministry and that He then passed on to all of His followers to carry out after He ascended into heaven?

____________________________________

Occupy the Church?

 If we are to consider these questions, we might also consider if the Western Church – like the First Century temple – is part of the problem.  According to Wallis, one of the major problems that has gotten us where we are today is that the U.S. is so focused on individualism.

“The value of the individual is central to American history, but extreme individualism teaches that life is all about me and not about ‘them’; about besting and beating our neighbors, rather than loving or even looking our for our neighbors.  It teaches that people basically get what they deserve, and if you start helping those around you, you may be destroying the natural order of a social competition…Advertisers confirm that it’s all about me and tell us that the next new product, purchase, outfit, vacation, car, or home will finally make us happy.  But it doesn’t… [And] community has been replaced by isolated individuals locked in an endless and stressful match to have the biggest house, the largest televisions, the sexiest bodies, the most exotic vacations, and even the most successful children.”[5]

This problem continues to be manifested and developed in the Western Church in the U.S.  In many churches throughout this country, it is pretty common to hear sermons preached from the pulpit about how faith is only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and thus in order to develop one’s faith, one must read the Bible, pray, and make pure and pious choices in life.  While faith is personal and needs to be refined and developed through piety and spiritual practices, these are not the only aspects of faith.  And when the Church focuses so much on individualism and teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is all about “me and Jesus” or a person’s individual and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, individuals will focus on satisfying their own needs and thus lose sight of the importance of community, justice, and serving and loving others.

Consequently, the Church seems to be contributing to this economic injustice problem in the U.S. by producing greedy individualistic Christians.

In addition to this, the Western Church also continues to manifest and produce Christians who are focused on consumerism and materialism.  For example, how many churches pour thousands of dollars into their buildings and sound systems while – at the same time – ignore the fact that neighbors only a few miles away who are starving and/or struggling just to get by.   And even when churches do use their resources to serve others in the community, preachers and teachers often avoid discussing the sins of consumerism and materialism, and in some cases even preach messages of a prosperity gospel.

However, this is opposite of what Jesus taught about money and materialism.  Not only did He ask His disciples at the beginning of His ministry to give up their possessions and follow Him, but He also established a community that lived simply and emphasized a system of redistributing money and goods to others in the community who were in need.  Moreover, He taught that people cannot serve two masters – both God and money – because they will love one and hate the other.  Thus, His followers cannot serve money if they serve God.

For Jesus, it was/is important that His followers (all of them, not just 12) must not store up treasures here on earth, but rather store them up in heaven… because wherever our treasure is, that is where the desires of our hearts are.

Therefore, we cannot serve both consumerism/materialism and God.

Skye Jethani further explains this in her article Leader’s Insight: From Christ’s Church to iChurch – How Consumerism Undermines Our Faith and Community“The problem is not consuming to live, but rather living to consume.”  In other words, consumerism/materialism/status seeking – rather than faith, community, justice, service to others, service to God, vocation – becomes the reason for and defines the meaning of life.  And so this explains why many Christians live very similar lifestyles to the rest of consumerist/materialistic America.  As Jethani further notes: “most churchgoers have not adopted a biblical worldview, they have simply added a Jesus fish on the bumper of their unregenerate consumer identities.”

____________________________________

The Church As Occupy-ers?

For these reasons, I believe Christians in the U.S. must begin to confront the issues of greed, consumerism, and materialism by occupying the Church… taking a public stand.  However, we cannot stop here.  We must continuously confront the systemic injustices in the U.S. that oppress and take advantage of the poor and middle class.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it in his discussion about the political responsibility of the Church in Ethics: it is “the Church’s office of guardianship that she shall call sin by its name and that she shall warn men against sin…If the Church did not do this, she would be incurring part of the guilt for the blood of the wicked.”[6]

In other words, leaders of the Church must preach to the individuals in their congregations about the sins of the government in order to move these individuals to action in confronting such sins.  If leaders/pastors fail to do this, and if laypersons fail to take action, we become just as much a participant in the sin as those who were already living into the sin.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Bishop Desmond Tutu

And so Christians cannot sit around and remain neutral during this time where economic injustice prevails as the greedy elite and powerful increase their wealth at the expense of the poor and middle class.
Christians cannot fail to testify the good news of Jesus Christ.
For, to Luke, the good news of Jesus Christ can be summed up in chapter four, where he begins his ministry by proclaiming:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And this year of the Lord’s favor He was referring to was the year of Jubilee – the year that the Jews had been waiting for.  It was the year when land would be returned to its original owners, all Hebrew slaves would be set free, and all debts would be remitted.
It was the ordered way of breaking down inequalities and injustice and making peace.
____________________________________
Our Opportunity to Protestify:
As Shane Claiborne puts it:

“No doubt Wall Street has some things to learn about Jubilee. Jubilee was God’s alternative to the patterns of Wall Street. As the Occupy Wall Street movement catches the world’s attention, those of us who are critical of Wall Street have a responsibility. We can’t just be defined by what we are against, but should be known by what we are for.  After all, the word “protest” originally meant “public declaration”. It wasn’t just about being against something, but it was about declaring something new and better. “Protest” shares the same root as “testify”.  So It’s time to protest-ify.”

As we begin this season of Lent – this time of wandering in the wilderness – may we be reminded that not only does the Resurrection and the promise of new life come after the wilderness, but that we – as followers of Jesus Christ – are called to help bring forth that new life here on earth.

And so may we find hope knowing that in the midst of these trying economic times – where so many of our parishioners, neighbors, and even family members are struggling to get by – that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to stand publicly for and with them.

For now is our opportunity to protestify!

____________________________________

Related Articles:

5 Things the world could teach America about economic justice (on cnn.com)

Sermon: “Time to Protestify” (on musingsfromabricolage)

Lift up your Voice!- Joining Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Unfinished Movement for Justice and Equality (on musingsfromabricolage)


[1] Wallis, Jim, Rediscovering Values, on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street: A Moral Compass for the New Economy, (New York: Howard Books, 2010), 34.

[2] Id.

[3] Wallis, 35.

[4] Id.

[5] Wallis, 68-9.

[6] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Ethics, (New York: Touchstone, 1955), 345.

Advertisements

V-Day: OneBillionRisingforJustice #rise4justice #1billionrising #reasontorise

Standard

“Arise; Shine! For your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.” – Isaiah 60:1

Today is V-Day, and as many couples celebrate their love today with dates, roses, teddy bears, and chocolates, many others around the world are rising today for JUSTICE. They are rising for all the women around the world who will or have been sexually or physically abused (one in three women will have been raped or abused – physically, sexually, and/or emotionally – in their lifetime!)

They are rising as survivors to raise their voices and share their unheard stories.

They are rising as friends, family, and neighbors who stand alongside their loved ones who have been abused.

They are rising as fellow members of the human race who stand in solidarity with all victims of abuse because no one should be robbed of their humanity in this way.

Because the power to end violence comes when people join together and stand.

As ONEBILLIONRISINGFORJUSTICE states on it’s website:

“Our stories have been buried, denied, erased, altered, and minimized by patriarchal systems that allow impunity to reign. Justice begins when we speak, release, and acknowledge the truth in solidarity and community. ONE BILLION RISING FOR JUSTICE is an invitation to break free from confinement, obligation, shame, guilt, grief, pain, humiliation, rage, and bondage.

The campaign is a recognition that we cannot end violence against women without looking at the intersection of poverty, racism, war, the plunder of the environment, capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy. Impunity lives at the heart of these interlocking forces.

It is a call to bring on revolutionary justice.”

I rise with so many others around the world today as a sister, an aunt, a godmother, and a pastor with children and youth because ALL girls and women should be free to live fully as they were created to live and be.

Photo on 2-14-14 at 11.18 AM #3

Will you join the movement and rise up, too?

_________________________________________

Related Articles:

In which 21 things that shouldn’t be said to sexual abuse victims (on sarahbessey.com)

Four Honest Questions about Sexual Abuse’s Aftermath (on deeperstory.com)

Having a Plan (on educationonviolence)

Signs of Emotional Abuse (on psychcentral.com)

Why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day (one of my earlier posts)

Valentines Day Youth Group Lesson on Love

Standard

Materials Needed: Two pieces of large butcher paper, markers, large hearts cut out of red construction paper, Bibles, chalk or dry erase board, Elephant Man Movie, tv/video player to play clips from the movie, copies of closing prayer

OPENING: LOVE LETTER GAME (from The Source for Youth Ministry)

Prepare: Tape two large pieces of butcher paper on the wall.  (Each butcher paper should have the following written at the top of the paper: “Honey, I love you so much that…”)

Explain: So, we have entered February…  What do you think of when you hear about the month of February?  (Valentines Day) How many of you have Valentines or will be writing Valentine’s Day cards this V-day?  Since it’s getting close to V-day, we are going to start our discussion tonight by writing a love letter together.

Divide youth into two teams.  Tell the groups that each team will be writing the best love letter they know how to write. Line each team up into a single file line.  When you yell “go,” the first person in each line will add one word to the sentence.  Once they finish writing their word, they will run to the back of the line.  One at a time, the rest of the team members will go to the wall and add a word to their team’s love letter. Tell them ahead of time that they will be disqualified if they write anything inappropriate. Give them four minutes to complete the letter. Once they finish, pick one student from each team to read their letter out loud to the rest of the group and have a panel of leaders vote on the best letter.

Image

OPENING ACTIVITY: “loves” versus “likes”

Explain: that with V-day coming up in the next week, the group will be talking about love.  (Make two columns on the board. Write “Loves” at the top of one column and “Likes” at the top the other column.)

Ask: the youth to state the things they like and the things they love.  (tv, xbox, new cell phone, ice-cream, pizza, etc.) Have someone write down answers on the board.

EXPLORING SCRIPTURE:

Explain: We are going to be talking about love today.  But the kind of love we are talking about is deeper than the love that we were just talking about.  This deeper love is found in our Scripture.

Read: Matthew 22:34-40

DISCUSS:

– Is there anything or anyone in this passage that you don’t know much about or want to know more about?

–  Does anyone know who the Pharisees and Sadducees were? (They were two different groups of religious Jewish leaders in Jesus’ time who followed the biblical and prophetic laws very strictly. In Matthew, they challenged Jesus a lot and tried to get him into trouble, but Jesus always trumped them.)

– Explain: Our passage occurs after several occasions where the Pharisees and Sadducees have challenged Jesus.  The thing that bothered Jesus the most about the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they were so focused on strict obedience to the biblical laws (like observing Sabbath, following food laws, etc.), that they would not pay attention to the important laws that were also commanded in the scripture, like caring for people – particularly the foreigner, the widow, the child, the sick, and the poor.  In other words, they talked the talk but they didn’t walk the walk.  An equivalent example would be: someone who says they are Christian and goes to church every week, reads the Bible regularly, doesn’t say swear words, etc., but will not reach out to the kids who are picked on and won’t include the kids in their group who sit alone in the school cafeteria.

– Can you relate to this at all?  Have you ever experienced this?

– What sticks out to you about this text?

–  What is the first commandment?  The second?  Where does Jesus get these commandments from?  (Deut. 6, which is found in the biblical law.)

–  What do you think the first commandment means: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind?

–  Is this different from the kind of love we were talking about when we made the two lists of the things we love and like? How?

– Explain: It’s a little difficult to understand what this love Jesus is talking about in Matthew really means because we often throw around the term “love” very easily (like in our lists.)  However, the love that Jesus is talking about is agape love.  It means more than what we say when we talk about loving the Bears Football or loving a boy or girl or ice-cream.  It’s more than just an emotion: it’s an all-encompassing love.  It’s not passive: it’s active.  Think of this quote: “Just as God chooses to love us, when we love God, we choose to do it.”  So love is a choice, not just a feeling.

EXPLORING DEEPER AND APPLYING THIS TO OUR CONTEXT:

DISCUSS:

–  So what does this mean to agape love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul?  What does this look like for us today?

–  What is the second law?  This again is agape love. What does this mean to love your neighbor as yourself?  Who is your neighbor?  What does loving your neighbor look like at school, home, in our neighborhoods, in the cafeteria, etc.?

–  So now what do you think vs. 40 means?  (All of the biblical laws are dependent upon loving God and loving your neighbor.  And loving God and loving neighbor are related and dependent upon each other.  To love God fully, one must love their neighbor, and when one loves their neighbor with agape love, one is loving God fully.)

– What is difficult about loving God and loving neighbors in this way?

VIDEO: Elephant Man

Before showing clips of the movie, explain: This is a movie based on a true story that took place in the late 1800s.  It’s about a man named John Merrick who was born with a condition that caused him to have several disabilities.  He was rejected by his family and ended up touring with a circus where he was put on display for people to come and see him.  People called him Elephant Man and abused him and mistreated him.

What’s happened in the movie so far is that Mr. Treves, a doctor, sees John being mistreated by the circus act director, so Mr. Treves insists that John is sick and needs to be taken to his hospital.  Most people in the hospital believe John is untreatable, and many hospital staff people cringe at him.  However, Mr. Treves insists on caring for him – no matter what others say.

Show video from: 37:51-43:33

Explain: After this scene, Mr. Treves befriends John Merrick and loves and cares for him.  However, the circus director you saw in the last scene eventually finds a way to sneak John Merrick out of his hospital room and take him back to the circus, where he beats him terribly and then puts him back on display.

Here is a scene of John being displayed at the circus:

Show Video from:1:35:09-1:37:14

Explain: During his time back in the circus, Mr. Treves worries about John and tries to find him.  A few other people in the circus eventually help John Merrick escape the circus.  Here is a scene of his escape.  (These scenes are not long before he is about to die at age 28 because of the severity of his condition.)

Show Video from: 1:43:40-1:49:22

DISCUSS THE VIDEO:

–  What reactions come from this story? What were your thoughts about the scene at the circus?

–  How did you feel about how John was treated by the nurse, the circus director, the children and people at the train?  Mr. Treves?

–  What happened at the train station scene?  (John is at the train station and the kids make fun of him and people continue to chase him into a corner, mocking him.  When John is cornered, he falls down and says: “I am not an elephant.  I am not an animal.  I am a human being.  I am a man.”)  What are your thoughts on what happened in this scene?

–  Do you relate to this at all?  (Either relate to John or to the people staring at him?)  Can you think of anyone in our own communities, school, church, neighborhood, or society who may be represented as the Elephant man?  (Homeless?  Kids who are picked on? People with physical or mental disabilities?)

–  What are your reactions to the final scene?  (In this scene, John says to his friend: “Do not worry about me, my friend. I am happy every hour of the day. My life is full because I know I am loved. I have gained myself.” And then after pausing to look at the doctor, he gently says, “I could not have said that if it were not for you.”)

–  How did John’s friend show the kind of agape love God commands of us?

–  Have you ever experienced this kind of love from someone else or shown it to someone else?

– How does this all relate to our Bible passage?  (love God wholly by loving others)

REFLECTING AND RESPONDING:

 (Hand everyone a large heart cut out of red construction paper and a marker.)

EXPLAIN: (Show a cross that is in the room or draw one on the board.)  The cross has two lines: one that is vertical and one that is horizontal.  What does the vertical line point to? (God)  What does the horizontal line point to?  (People around us… Our neighbors.)   We are going to take a few moments to reflect on specific ways we each will love vertically (God with all our heart, mind, and soul) and love horizontally (our neighbor as ourselves) this week.

Tell the youth to think and then write these two things on their paper hearts: (Give them 5 minutes to reflect and write.)

1. Write one way you are going to specifically love God fully (vertically).

* Examples: I will spend ___ amount of time praying each day for __________________.  I will get to know God better by reading about who God is in Bible ______ days this week.  I will spend time with God by taking a nature walk ______ times this week.

2. Write one way you are going to love God horizontally by loving your neighbors.

* Examples:  I will invite ____________________ to sit with me at lunch _____ times this week.  I will talk to ____________________ (who is usually picked on) at school every day this week.  I will smile and say hello to someone who is begging for money or food at the train stop _______ times this week.  I will volunteer at _____________ on _________day of this week.

Image  Image

CLOSING PRAYER:

(Print out the following prayer on little strips of paper and have everyone pray this prayer together.)

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; And where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

“Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – a syncroblog on the “Spirit of the Poor”

Standard

Image

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Today I am participating in a syncroblog with Esther Emery and Newell Hendricks who are leading a discussion on how we – who are privileged – enjoy the benefits of our privilege at the expense of others in our own communities and around the world.  The discussion is based around the first of Jesus’ eight beatitudes in Matthew 5, which happens to be part of our lectionary Gospel text this week.  At the start of Jesus’ ministry during his first long discourse we know as the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus proclaims: “blessed are those who are poor in spirit” – or as Newell and Esther suggest: have the “spirit of the poor” – “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In some translations, the Greek word makarios, or “blessed,” is translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “privileged.”  However, a better translation of makarios is “in a position of favor” or to be more specific: “having feelings associated with receiving God’s favor.” In other words, as Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming the good news, he is declaring that those who are poor in spirit are receiving God’s favor and therefore experience feelings of happiness or gratitude.

If you really think about this, it sounds like quite an aversive and heartless claim on Jesus’ part: to say that those who are poor physically (and due to their physical poverty are thus also spiritually poor) are happy or grateful because they are receiving God’s favor.  How on earth could those struggling just to put a healthy meal on their table, to find a safe and warm place to sleep on a freezing winter night, or to receive a fair working wage that can pay for adequate family health care be receiving God’s favor (and thus be grateful about it) when there are others around the world (the top 1%) who own 65 times the amount of the poorest half of the world?

Yet, this blessing – or favor – is not just referring to the current condition of those Jesus speaks of – the condition of one being poor in spirit and/or living in poverty.  Rather, this blessing/favor is connected with and dependent upon the second clause in the sentence: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God in which Jesus – after he has been tempted in the desert – proclaims has come near and is bringing light to those experiencing the darkness of this world…

Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God we pray about in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…

Theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God that Jesus – “God with Us” in the flesh – has begun to bring about on earth by proclaiming good news to the poor and marginalized and then commissioning all of his followers to go and do likewise.

Those who are poor in spirit (or who have the “spirit of the poor”) are gratefully enjoying God’s favor because to receive God’s favor is to receive the kingdom of heaven which is being realized in both the “here and now” and that which is to come… This is the same kingdom in which those who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome in the stranger, and give clothing to the naked – to the least of these – will indeed inherit.  … And this is the same kingdom in which all who claim to follow Jesus are called to participate in bringing forth by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Having a “spirit of the poor” means that we must participate in this “kingdom-of-heaven-on-earth bringing” and “justice doing” that is required of us – which starts with recognizing and acknowledging our own privilege and the consequences and impacts our privileged lifestyles have on others around the world.  Once we recognize this privilege, we must then grieve it.  This does not mean we need be held captive by our own guilt: being dominated by guilt only holds us back from making things right in the world.  Rather, we are to lament over our participation in privileged lifestyles that oppress others and let our grief move us forward in righting wrongs and doing justice so that all of God’s children are treated fairly and able to live holistically.

As we explore and acknowledge our privilege and how such advantages that we enjoy contribute to the oppression of others, it is easy to become overwhelmed at how and where we should start to disarm such unjust practices and systems.

Thus, we must remind ourselves that this work cannot be done alone: it must be done as a community effort.  As Cindy Brandt puts it:

“Justice work can never be done in isolation, but requires the efforts of all the players in society: artists, musicians, politicians, journalists, businessmen and women, educators, parents, and children. It can only be done in community with ordinary people with extraordinary love.”

However, this “justice doing” starts with individual changes in lifestyles.  And as more and more individuals start to make such changes in their own lives and educate and call others to do so, as well, these individual efforts will emerge into very powerful collective ones that can and will bring about change and justice.

_____________________________________________________________

To begin this kind of lifestyle change, here are a few suggested practices:

 SHOP FAIR TRADE:

Purchase gifts, coffee, clothing, and jewelry that are fairly traded and empower communities, farmers, and women around the world.  Click here to check out the top 10 reasons to shop fair trade.

In addition to checking out your local shops that sell fair trade items, here are some fair trade websites:

Ten Thousand Villages – fair trade items from all over the world

31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda

Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda

Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India

B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood

Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices

 *For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.

SHOP LOCAL:

Support local stores and businesses by shopping local.

AVOID SHOPPING AT STORES WITH UNETHICAL WORK PRACTICES:

Wal-Mart has had a long history of underpaying employees, creating terrible work conditions, and supporting global sweatshops (among many other unethical practices).  Click here for additional information. There are many other companies that have similar practices, so do your research. 

AVOID BUYING PRODUCTS THAT SUPPORT UNETHICAL PRACTICES:

There are many products and brands that are made in sweatshops with terrible working conditions and enforce child labor.  For the same reasons mentioned above, do your research and avoid purchasing such items.  Click the links below for more information on current product boycotts and tips on ethical shopping.

Ethical Shopping

Boycotts

Ethical Consumer Boycott List

FAST FROM SHOPPING:

Fast from shopping for yourself either during Lent, Advent, or even for an entire year.  We have too much STUFF that not only continues to clutter our homes, but also escalates the demand to produce more STUFF at cheap costs and at fast paces.  When the demand is high for fast productivity, the demand increases for cheap labor and continues terrible working conditions.  (Click here for more information about sweatshops and child labor.)  Fasting from shopping helps to both decrease the productivity demand and to de-clutter and get rid of the stuff in our lives that keeps us from seeing what is really of value and importance in the world.

MOVE YOUR MONEY:

Move your money from the nation’s big banks that have unethical practices to local and ethical banks and credit unions. (Click here for more information on how to invest your money ethically.)

DECREASE ELECTRONIC USAGE:

Newell Hendricks discusses on his blog the impacts of our high electronics demands in his discussion about conflict minerals.  In order to decrease the demand for conflict minerals, try to own as few electronics as possible.  When you are not using these electronics, turn them off in order to maintain a longer lifespan, and recycle them when their lifespan ends.  Don’t upgrade to new phones and electronics just because you can: wait until your phone, iPod/iPad, etc. dies.

INVEST IN FAIR ELECTRONICS:

There are new products that are coming out that are conflict-free.  There are also many current campaigns that are pushing for a conflict-free certification process.  Do your research and take action.  Here are some resources to get you started:

RaisehopeforCongo

Fairphone

Greenpeace International 

Enough Project

ETHICAL ENGAGEMENTS AND WEDDINGS

Find ways to have an echo-friendly wedding.  Click here for some tips on how.

Rings:

In addition to divesting from conflict minerals, divest from conflict diamonds.  (Click here to read more about diamonds that fund civil war.)  Here are some resources for finding ethical diamonds and/or rings made from recycled materials:

Ethical Rings

PeaceOfIndigo – handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones

Metalicious –  handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones

Bridal and Bridesmaid Dresses:

Purchase bridal and bridesmaid dresses that are echo-friendly or recycled.  Here are some great resources:

Amanda Rose Bridal – handmade echo-friendly bridal and bridesmaid dresses from recycled materials

French Knot Couture – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses

Free Peoples – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses

 

TAKE ACTION:

In addition to changing daily lifestyles, take action to make changes around unjust policies and practices!  Get involved in community organizing groups, research unjust practices at local and global levels, sign petitions, participate in actions and marches, share your findings with others on social media and in your congregations/organizations, and push your congregations/organizations to educate others, take action, and promote/sell/display fair-trade and ethical products.