This months “Spirit of the Poor” synchroblog was very rich, not only in the number and variety of posts, but especially in the comments on the posts. Many of our authors participated in commenting on other author’s posts and the conversations got richer and more personally connected in the process. Our thanks to all who participated.
Our anchor blog, written by Luke Harms, started us off by looking at our “particularly American theology-laden-economic system” and, using the words of Isaiah: 55, asking what it’s rewards have been.
We have crafted a theology of prosperity that is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the Gospel. We’ve sent this word forth, and it has come back empty.
Our individuality has become the trump card to the Other’s humanity…We’ve preached the gospel of me, we’ve sent this word forth, and it has come back empty.
Then Luke turns to bringing the question home to our lives.
The Word became flesh, and if we’re going to preach the Word, it cannot – it will not – be the Truth unless it is embodied in flesh.
We can start by taking ourselves out of the center of our economic decision-making processes and reminding ourselves often that we are a part of a greater, interconnected whole. We can start by seeking God in our own communities and working to discern what justice and jubilee look like in our particular contexts.
Esther Emery, who has chosen a life of homesteading and intentional subsistence living, wrote about the difficulties and blessings of this choice.
I don’t want to be the one who says, “I know that the majority of the world’s population lives in conditions quite different from mine, but I can’t think about that. Because I can’t survive thinking about it.”
A whole big chunk of the world is doing what I’m doing.
I don’t want to be the one who says, “Yeah. I know there is injustice. I know there is evil. I know there is oppression… But I am powerless to change it. And so I stop my ears so I don’t hear the call.”
I fumble on along my path, even if isn’t justifiable by any logic. I won’t tell you that this lifestyle comes easy. Or that all the choices I am making are the right ones. But I want to be free from the chains of guilt. And weakness. I want to be able to take whatever life tosses at me, free and strong and courageous.
Newell Hendricks gave an outline of “Sabbath Economics:” the interpretation of the parts of the Hebrew Bible that spell out in more detail what the ten commandments mean. These laws are found in Exodus 20-23, Deuteronomy, and Leviticus 25.
Throughout these passages there is frequent reference to God having freed the people from slavery in Egypt. The clear message is that anything, like charging interest, which leads to enslavement of the people is unholy and a rejection of Yahweh. There are also restorative laws:
- Freeing Debt Slaves every seven years
- Debt forgiveness
- There is a yearly tax (tithe) which is used for festivals which all can attend, and every third year this tithe was given to those with no land; widows, foreigners, Levites, and orphans. (14:28-29) This is the first social tax in world history.
Perhaps the story which best captures the meaning of Sabbath Economics is the story of God providing manna during the exodus from Egypt… There are two clear lessons from this story.
1.Abundance: God provides for us. There is enough for all. There is even more than enough so that in six days of work we will have enough for seven days.
2.Everybody should take only what is needed, and not hoard.
The commandment to observe the Sabbath is not only to rest, but to give rest to others. And it is a commandment against continuous acquisition
There were many other wonderful posts from people who contributed last month. Susan Schiller wrote two posts; the first containing a beautiful prayer/song from her granddaughter:
“I wake up in the morning,
I see the trees and sky.
I go outside.
I see the birds and the butterflies,
I say a little prayer for someone.
Then I do something for someone.
Our brains are for thinking about God.
Then we say a little prayer for someone.
We do something for someone.”
After reading the posts of Newell and Esther, Susan felt she had to write another post, telling “what it felt like to be a debt slave, back in the 90’s”
I can tell you that Kingdom Economics 101 is the OPPOSITE of White Christian Economics 101!
Susan tells in vivid detail what it was like to work for three “Christian” employers, all of whom exploited her, including attempted seduction, overwork and underpay.
But I chose to stay in that environment because I WANTED TO KNOW what it’s like to be POOR! I wanted to see what God could do for a poor person! I wanted to see if FAITH REALLY WORKS for the oppressed!
I listen to a couple of my friends who are still back there, in that gorgeous tourist town run by a Christian mob. They are in deep suffering, their names are on a black list because they stand up for righteousness
Caris Adel wrote a very powerful post, asking tough questions of us and interspersing lines from the Bible which are in the lectionary for this past Sunday. Here is the beginning:
What gaping wounds have you inherited? What stories have been scabbed over? What secrets do the scars hold?
“You shall be holy.”
What if you are the one withholding food from hungry people?
What if you are the one profiting from deception? What if you are the one not paying the worker a livable wage?
And it goes on like that, asking, poking into our moral fiber;
How do you react when you come face to face with the reality that the story of your life creates hardships for other people?….”Your story is irreversibly linked with local, national and global issues that aren’t issues at all, but people.”
And so it continues. It is a post to continually humble us and challenge us to make change.
The next post, by Rev. Emily Heitzman, Economic Justice: Would Jesus Occupy?, was a tower of information and conviction. Emily gives statistics and arguments about the inequality gap, the housing crisis, and racial inequality. Following this section, Emily asks:
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. ..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 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.
Emily’s accounts of Jesus’ actions and teachings in Luke are a wonderful compliment to Newell’s Hebrew Bible teachings.
Next Emily talks about the western church:
Consequently, the Church seems to be contributing to this economic injustice problem in the U.S. by producing greedy individualistic Christians…focused on consumerism and materialism.
This section is a great compliment to Susan Schiller’s personal account of working for White Male Christian Employers. Throughout her post, Emily challenges us to “Occupy” our society and our churches in the spirit of the gospel, in the spirit of the poor.
The next post, by Luna Indigo, asks a simple question:
Why are strangers so shy about lending a helpful hand when one is clearly needed? When did was a collective decide that we would be too inconvenienced to help?
For me, I would say it was the 80’s. All those big shots on Wall Street and in big corporations who shot to the top stabbing their coworkers figuratively in the back just to get there.
Once we get back into the art of helping each other out with smaller tasks, we can then move on to acting as a bigger group to help out more people.
At Ava Anomaly, Jamie sent us a beautiful poem, reflecting on her time in Africa. It begins:
Red dirt of Africa, calling out to me again.
To give a better sense of the poem, here is one full stanza:
Coarse and colorful designs of Ghanian textiles,
Deftly sewn into beautiful robes by grace-filled women
Who refused to be swallowed in the despair of their poverty.
I spent more than I owned to secure the token garments
Which my “buy now, pay later” options afforded.
The dress calls from my closet
And asks me why I have not worn her for the last three years.
And I don’t know what to tell her.
“I don’t deserve you?“
I am no longer blind.
Thank you, Jamie,
The next post, from Caiobhesblog, was a very thoughtful response to some of the earlier posts. As Esther Emery wrote in her comment; “I love the way you just processed this live in real time for us, Caiobhe. Here are some of the thoughts expresses:
What would the principle of Jubilee look like in my life? In my home? In my work patterns? In my shopping habits? For my children ? In my involvement in my local community? In my church? In my friendships?
I’m now wondering whether Lent could become my period of Jubilee each year? A time that I know is coming each year, when I acknowledge that nothing I have is my own, and I consider where I am hurting others through my choices, and make the changes necessary to release them. I know that anything I do will be partial and flawed (see my last spirit of the poor link up for evidence of that), but I am not going to let its inadequacy stop me from trying.
What if I made a planned decision that every X number of years I would take time out from work in order to leave that ground fallow, and to tend to my family in a more intentional way?
I’m not sure if I’m on the right track with any of this, although I do know that there is a little feeling of excitement building in my soul as I think about these things. As I think about the reality of acting on what I believe. On living intentionally. Of making choices. Of taking the bible seriously.
Spirit of the Poor – it might just change my life.
What an affirming way to end this reflection. Changing our lives, that is why we are here.
The next post is from Carly Gelsinger: Serving from the brokenness. Carley describes her previous association of serving the poor and needy through a church. But then: Five years ago, Joe and I were literally kicked out of our church by the senior pastor. All the serving came to a ugly, screeching halt.after five years licking her wounds:
I’ve learned at least two things in the last five years:
1) That even if I never served again, God would still love me. And
2) Life is kind of empty when you’re not giving back.
More and more I started to notice people in my own community who are quietly making a difference – the ones who do not draw attention to themselves, but faithfully work in the background because they care about others.
As Carly joins in our conversation, we hope she finds community here.
The next post, Where There is Need and Gratitude, is by Aaron Smith. Aaron reminds us that not all of us are financially comfortable. Susan Schiller told us of her history of being trapped in poverty. Aaron tells us, not of his history, but of his present situation:
I had felt nothing but shame. Here I was again, asking for help. Asking other people to take care of my family once again. I feel like this is all I do these days: ask for help. I can rationalize the reasons – I am on a leave of absence from work getting help with my mental illness so I could go back to work. It still feels shameful to ask for help yet again. Second month in a row. I forget how many times I asked for help in the past few years.
Aaron asks us directly “But how do you see the needy in your church? How do you see me in your church?” When we ask people if they want to go out to a restaurant after church, do we consider that maybe they can’t afford it? Aaron challenges us with his words to let people be honored as the image of God, and not to worship money and stuff so much:
In God’s law, the Israelites had to forgive debts every seven years. They had to release indentured slaves and give back land they purchased. Every seven years, they were supposed to let money be money, stuff be stuff, and people be honored as the image and beloved of God. I wonder what would happen if we believers took up this practice. What if we gave as if we were ever going to see the money again? What if we knew that what people owed us would be forgiven in a declaration of God’s grace to humanity?
Alia Joy wrote a post which is challenging to many of us who have advocated giving of our wealth. Alia writes:
There was a time, not so long ago when my god was poor and mean. I had a theology built on suffering… I could find Holiness if I just sacrificed enough.
American faith teaches us we should have planned better with a sturdy 401K and dental package. American faith teaches us we were foolish to ever trust God for provision when He said, “go” and my parents went to Nepal obediently with two kids in tow and not much else.
By way of contrast, Alia writes:
And the preachers on the shiny screen tell me I can have my best life right now, just ask and think happy thoughts and your fairy God-father will make everything sparkly.
But somewhere along the line it’s all works. I am poor and righteous or I am rich and righteous and I am lost either way. Neither gospels have given me Jesus.
I’ve learned … Lessons on sacrifice and obedience and giving. But God help me to receive. God help me to open hands and lift them to heaven and pray to be seen. God help me to have faith.
Shelly Miller writes of lessons she has learned in observing someone in church with alzheimer’s:
When we have lost all preoccupation with ourselves the focus turns outward and we are children in God’s presence.
Prayer is a conversation of survival when I grasp the definition of what Jesus means when he says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)
Watching the beginning Alzheimer stages in a once vital life is a mirror to my futility. When I declare my worth by the summation of what I can offer, comparison becomes my undoing and pride, the root of my foolish thinking.
Our last post, Burdens and Balances, came from Joanna Hoyt who lives on a St. Francis Farm, a Catholic Worker farm in Lacona N.Y.
I’ve had Leviticus 19:16b ringing in my mind and heart: Thou shalt not profit from thy neighbor’s blood. Also Ephesians 4:25b: We are members one of another. I know that, more certainly than I know anything.
I also know that we are bound together invisibly in an economic system that provides comforts for some at a terrible cost to others.
There are two major ones that I am aware of now:
How can I live in a way that does less harm to other people and the planet?
How can I give and receive help appropriately?
After discussing how these questions play out in her life at St. Francis Farm, Joanna concludes:
I don’t know the answers. I am grateful for other people who are willing to share the questions. Their fellowship makes it a little easier to avoid the distorted thinking that reduces all these questions to Am I doing well enough? Am I a good person now?, makes it a little easier to remember that the goal is to live in wholeness and in truth as members of one another and of God.
It seems there was one more post that came in from Juliet. She tells of her Lenten journey, going back to the midweek mass of her former church, expecting to be one of the few faithful Christians worshiping in this manner. Instead she finds a flock of the faithful.
And I was humbled. As I needed to be. It seemed to me that the Spirit led me to this commitment to go to daily Mass not, as I thought, to help me become more disciplined in my prayer life, but to help me on the path of humility. To show me how so many people in my little area are walking the path of holiness and discipleship and I just don’t see them.
Thank you, Juliet, for joining us, and for your earlier reading and commenting.
As I mentioned at the top, for me, the real richness of this month’s conversations took place in all of the comments that were made, both by people who wrote posts and by readers in general. There was good evidence that people really read carefully what others said and wanted to engage in meaningful conversation.
Thank you all.