Therein Our Poverty, Lies Our Wealth

 

Money

1 Cor:1:27

But God has chosen people the world regards as fools to expose the pretensions of those who think they know it all, and God has chosen people the world regards as weak to expose the pretensions of those who are in power. God has chosen people who have no status in the world and even those who are held in contempt, people who count for nothing, in order to bring to nothing those who are thought to be really something, so that no human beings might be full of themselves in the presence of God. It is God’s doing that you belong to the people of the Anointed Jesus. God has made him our wisdom and the source of our goodness and integrity and liberation. So, as scripture says, “If you have to take pride in something, take pride in what God has done,”

1 Cor:4:11-13

Right up to this very moment we are hungry and thirsty and poorly clothed, cuffed around, and have no place to call home, and we are worn out by the hard work we do with our own hands. When we are abused, we bless; when we are harassed we put up with it; when we are slandered, we are conciliatory. We have been treated as if we were the scum of the earth, the filth everyone wants to get rid of, and still are.

These particular passages from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians derived from “The Authentic Letters of Paul” remind me of my own vulnerable and inadequate sense of self and who I am in God which is not contingent upon my wealth, my status, nor my academic or social success. On the contrary, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians actually shows us that though we may work hard, the acquisition of wealth and power does not bring us any closer to God. On the contrary, Paul demonstrates that the acquisition of wealth and power may  hinder our connection to the mysteries of God. For the mysteries of God are not found in gold, diamonds, fancy purses or I Phones but rather in the simplicity of God’s grace.   

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul reflects on his current condition as an envoy of Christ living on the brink of death in the throngs of poverty. Paul, a hard working envoy to the Nations remarks he is living as an outcast, one who is stricken with hunger and thirst. Living in the face of opposition he continues to work for the Anointed without adequate access to food and shelter. And yet, he is in a place where he can only give praise to God.

Therefore, in consideration of our current economic and global crisis, if our so called Christian nation would take some advice from one the greatest patriarchs of Christianity, we might find ourselves on a different path. A path where the acquisition of wealth no longer becomes our greatest achievement, but rather the demonstration of God’s grace becomes the prize. “For the Empire of God is not just about talk: it’s about the power that transforms the world” 1 Cor:4:20).

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Onward Christian Soldiers

reconciliation

As we approach the close of 2016 and reflect on the current state of affairs in regards to racism in the US I think it is important to consider what is the role of Christians in regards to injustice. In consideration of John DeGruchy’s survey of Christianity in his book Christian Humanism, his perspective of salvation is tantamount in terms of developing a “New Social Gospel” for the works of peace and justice. DeGruchy explains in his book that the definition of “salvation” in modern day Christianity has become perplexed from its intentional means of liberation.

Modern interpretations of salvation have become entrapped in the constraints of oppressive deliberations that do poorly in the area of rectifying a social gospel. According to DeGruchy, Jesus came, lived and died on the cross not so we could be saved from eternal damnation, but rather so we could return to God and regain our humanity.

Humanity in its essence, consists of being “humane”. Therefore, as we reconfigure and align ourselves with the spirit of God, we are returned to our “full humanity” in which we are then removed from our ego, henceforth drawn into a right relationship with God. In turn our reflection of self has a greater capacity to look beyond the constraints of self-fulfilled interests therefore creating a greater capacity for the works of peace and justice.

John DeGruchy, in his book Christian Humanism describes this possibility:

But if we are concerned about the common good of humanity, as well as the good of those poor living cheek by jowl with us, then those of us who are privileged in the world have to find ways whereby we can share our resources better.

It is not a question of philanthropy; it is a matter of justice and ensuring genuine peace in the world. Such justice demands more than individual charity as important as this may be; it requires reparation. Making reparation for past injustices is not just politically expedient; it is a spiritual obligation that has very practical outcomes.

This is a global challenge that goes to the heart of the relationship between the so-called developed and developing worlds. No amount of theologizing can water down Jesus’ call to costly discipleship. “If any want to become my followers” he said, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who love their life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24)” (DeGruchy).

 

 

There is nothing “Great” apart from “Love”

        In response to a recent hate fueled letter received by the Evergreen Islamic Center, as a Christian I am appalled at the ignorant rant that is directed towards members of a shared Abrahamic faith tradition. The author of this letter clearly is not knowledgeable of their own faith tradition as they claim to profess to “God Bless America” yet clearly do not know that Christians, Muslims and Jews all share the same lineage under the same God. What we have here is a product of uniformed religious teachings that have been passed down by evangelicals to demonize anyone who isn’t Christian, much like Isis, this form of Christianity is creating a cosmic divide within religious traditions which is counter intuitive to works of peace and justice.


         

         Due to our current political climate in relation to Presidential Elect Trump, our country is facing an increase in hate related criminal activity. In regards to this criminal activity it is relevant that we look at the notions of the Abrahamic faith traditions to address where our obligations stand in relations to our current political climate as believers in the God of Abraham. When I consider the relevance of our faith I am reminded of our call to justice in action and deed to care for the poor and needy and bring forth the spirit reconciliation for the works of peace and justice.

        As author Dr. Ronald L. Eisenberg discusses in his book Jewish Traditions, Gemilut Hasadim “the giving of loving kindness” is a significant social value within Jewish tradition. Eisenberg notes the practice of “Tzedakah”, which literally means “justice” or “righteousness” which is an obligatory “mitzvah” or commandment where believers are called to practice their faith. Therefore, Eisenberg notes when a person practices their faith in action and deed they are exercising a fundamental part of their faith. So much so that “the poor man does more for the householder (in accepting alms) than the householder does for the poor man” Lev. 34:8.
        In addition, the giving of Loving Kindness is no less valuable in the reckoning of the Christian Faith. Therefore, how be it that Christian’s find it appropriate to ridicule, dehumanize, discriminate and hate on their Muslim neighbors? It is time for Christians to finally reconcile their faith and obligation to Christ in the expression of justice. It is time to recognize that hate and discrimination is counter to the great commission of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves.

       Whether we agree or not with our neighbor’s religious tradition, nowhere does Jesus instruct us to “hate” our neighbor. Much like the prophet Muhammad, Jesus was concerned with “love” expressed through action and deed. As we encounter this era of religious and political complexity let us remember that we are not called to be complacent in the face of hate. For God has called all of us to express our faith through love, for nothing “Great” can be achieved apart from love.

rape

To be raped is to die within the confines of internal agony and to express our identities within the midst of complete and utter turmoil. At its core rape is the manifestation of the darkest evil maintained within the grips of the betrayed. Rape is generational torture passed down by  the greed for power while denying the very essence and beauty of humanity. Rape is stuck in the grips of systematic injustice, as woman cry out for salvation. Rape is living daily within a world stratified by systematic torture while the invisible rape of woman lays dormant, woman become prisoners of sexual servitude.

All of the woman closest to me have been violently raped. My sister among them was violently ganged raped just blocks from the French Quarter in New Orleans. A wrong turn led her into the clutches of centuries worth of systematic injustice that has normalized the raping of woman. Anger fueled from an oppressive socio-economic platform, young black men leaning against the gun of poverty and exclusion exercised an age-old tradition of using woman’s bodies as battlefield in an attempt to avenge the wrong that had been done to them and their ancestors.

In consideration of Susan Thistlethwaite’s book, “Woman’s bodies as battlefield”, the war on woman has waged. Statistics alone cannot fully express the desperate state of affairs in regards to woman’s bodies as battlefields. When 1 in 5 women are raped in the U.S., it’s time to counter our problematic depiction of woman instead of ranking them as second class citizens and placing them systematically within the realms of inferiority. Woman’s bodies from the onset of civilization have been used as tools of warfare, for the exchange of goods and to negotiate relations.

Therefore, woman’s bodies have been predominantly perceived as sex symbols and not as people with personal agency. Therefore, it is no surprise that African woman in the 18th and 19th century during American slavery were often used as sexual commodities for their masters. This atrocity has been  grossly understated even though rape meets the definition of torture, representational of physiological, psychological and socio-economical connotations. Yet, the rape of woman has been normalized insomuch that woman’s bodies as battlefields have been continually been overlooked.

Therefore, in order to rectify the normalization of rape it is imperative to bring forth the stories of rape victims into the light. Our mother, our sisters, our daughters are at risk. If the normalization of rape continues, the torture of woman will continue unabated. Thistlethwaite states, “to “queer” a subject is to make its very normative problematic……the injuring woman’s bodies, even to the point of death, can be seen as beyond the confines of “normal”. “Seeing” then becomes not the performance of customary but of identifying the criminal” (Thistlethwaite 33). It’s fine time we heeded to the cries of the rape victims and let their voices be heard.

 

Set the Captives Free

homophobia

We can concur that in regards to human behavior, human sexuality has never been strictly heterosexual. People are not made to be homosexual, they just are. It is more than apparent that people are born with very diverse sexual and gender identities. Cultural ideals initiated our sexual norms, but these norms do not include what is truly “natural” nor do they include what God has created.

John Boswell’s book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century challenged the misconceptions of intolerance towards the gay community. Published in 1980, Boswell’s extensive work surveys the behaviors and attitudes towards homosexuality and how those attitudes from the fourteenth century have carried across time into the modern era (Boswell 7).

According to Boswell, homosexuality was prevalent among Roman society insomuch that Edward Gibbon remarked, “of the first fifteen emperors Claudius was the only one whose taste in love was entirely correct”, meaning heterosexual” (Boswell 61). Boswell cites that homosexuality was so profound within Roman culture that early Christian writers commented on its presence. Minucius Felix comments that it was the “Roman religion”. In addition, Boswell states that the majority of Christian comments in regards to homosexuality spoke to its legality and approval (Boswell 67).

Considering Boswell’s historical analysis, it is likely that early Christian belief did not include homophobia. Christianity was established within the Greco-Roman era when homosexuality was still considered socially acceptable (Boswell 91). In fact, according to Boswell the term homosexual was not even a word until the late nineteenth century (Boswell 92).

What has been commonly used to support the condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible is the account of Sodom in Genesis 19. Supporters of this theory infer that God destroyed Sodom because the men of the city wanted to engage in homosexual activity with the angels. However, according to Jesus, Boswell suggests it was not homosexuality that was the offense but rather inhospitality. Jesus declares, “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say to unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” (Matthew. 10:14-15) (Boswell 94).

In addition, Christianity formed within a society that was influenced largely by Platonic and Aristotelian concepts of “ideal nature”. They combined the traditions of Old Testament scholarship with the authority of classical learning and established solid doctrines that dictated Christian behavior. Therefore, in the third century Clement of Alexandria deemed, “to have sex for any other purpose other than to produce children is to violate nature” (Boswell 146).

In essence the establishment of what is “natural” was created by popular consent and the influence of a singular interpretation of scripture which manifested into an ethical norm. The deconstruction of such ideological claims in regards to human sexuality is the very essence of our call as Christians to liberate the oppressed LGBTQ community. To love thy neighbor as thy self, and set the captives free.

 

“God was with Ishmael”, why aren’t we?

A closer look at Genesis reveals that God intended to bless all Abraham’s descendants, therefore, the Israeli Palestinian occupation is one of the worst accepted atrocities that Jews and Christians have been misled to believe is ordained by God.

mother-and-son

God’s Covenant with Abram:

Gen: 15:18; “On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the rivers of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (NRSV).

The Sign of the Covenant:

Gen: 17:3-4; “Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations” (NRSV).

Gen: 17:7-8; “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for the perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (NRSV).

Gen: 17:18; And Abraham said to God, “O that Ishmael might live in you sight!” God said, “No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful and exceedingly numerous; and he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at his next season” (NRSV).

Hagar & Ishmael Sent Away:

Gen: 21:10-13; So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac”. The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But, God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because the boy and because of the slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring” (NSV).

God Saves Hagar & Ishmael:

Gen: 21:16-20 “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him”. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow” (NRSV).

Gender Equality

gender-equality

In Genesis 1:28, “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”. When the spirit of God is within us, the barriers of sexism must be rejected.

In light of the newest scandal regarding Trump and his manners of misogyny, wish as we might that civilization has come multitudes from the eras of patriarchy, statistics tell us otherwise. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation every seven seconds one girl under the age of fifteen is married.  In addition, Reuter reports that by 2030 the number of women married in childhood will increase from 700 million to 950 million.

According to “The Trump Tape”, Trump states he can do whatever he wants with women. He states that he can do anything, that he doesn’t have to wait, and he can just grab women by their genitals if he wants to. Although this sounds very crude and vulgar to us in the twentieth first century, Trump’s attitude is not unfamiliar. According to the Hebrew Bible, women within ancient Israelite society did not have agency over their bodies. Women were the property of men.

According to scholar and theologian Ken Stone in his article, “Marriage and Sexual Relations in the Hebrew Bible” from the Oxford Handbook of Theology, Sexuality and Gender, sexual relationships in ancient Israel have been misinterpreted. According to Stone, the word “wife” and “husband” were added into the text in accordance with English translators. “Ish” and “ishshah” in Hebrew are interpreted as “man” and “women”. In addition, the words “baal” and “adon” in Hebrew mean “lord” or “master” which have also been replaced with “husband” in English translations of the Hebrew Bible. For example, Stone cites Deuteronomy 24:1 in the NRSV which reads, ‘Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman’, yet in Hebrew it is read, ‘If a man takes a woman he becomes her lord’.

Therefore, what we find is that when we read man and woman back into the text, the text reveals more clearly the negotiations that existed between men in the exchange of women. Stone states, within ancient Israelite society women were “given” and “taken” accordingly to prospective men to establish alliances and obligations between kinship groups and for the acquisition of dowries.

However, Jesus broke the barriers of misogyny when Jesus walked and talked with men and women in which he saw no division between his male and female disciples. Jesus, an advocate for social justice and change defied the religious bigotry of the Israelites and sought to undermine the hierarchal establishment by implementing tools for social change. Therefore, when Paul addresses the Galatians and acknowledges the equality of the Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, perhaps he was acknowledging the oneness of God in our shared humanity. That regardless of our perspectives, God is, and will always be equally within us. As we are created in God’s image, both male and female.