Tag Archives: Justice

Self-Identified Privilege

 

Scripture Reading: Judges 4:1-7

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, ‘The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, “Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.” ’—Judges 4:4-7

I named this web address after Deborah because I value her as a person of action. If you read her whole story in judges, the violence may overwhelm you. It does me, and I do not condone it. What I am impressed with is Deborah’s seeing injustice and doing something about it. Our country seems to have self-righteously lost its moral center.  What do I mean by that? I hear a lot of pontificating about what is wrong with our country from people who are caught up in sex scandals, business corruption, greed, and misuse of power. They seem to be under the impression, if they do something, it is right. Only what others do are subject to judgment and punishment. The sin described here is self-identified privilege, and it is epidemic in our land.

What shocks me most is the support given to the purveyors of such behavior by the people their actions probably hurt the most. The people who identify as privileged seem to be saying if you become like us all will be well as their supporters fall further and further into despair. We seem to be suffering from a collective case of being out of touch with reality. I keep remembering the children’s book, The Emperor’s New Clothing. We all need to read or re-read it.

How do we discern what is right, what is just? Jesus taught us that the most important guidance for righteousness is to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If loving oneself is the measure by which we must love others there is no place for privilege in our world.

Prayer: Lord, open our heart to your reality. Help us to see how what we do impacts others. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Evil in Sight

Living in the Spirit
November 13, 2017

Scripture Reading: Judges 4:1-7

The Israelites again after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years. –Judges 4:1-3

When will we ever learn? I wonder how many times the Bible records something similar to The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. While theologians may debate whether God rains punishment down on God’s people, there is no question that we all must suffer the consequences of our own actions even when God forgives us. Are our memories so short that when good times abound we forget what we did to cause the bad times?

God gave us standards from the beginning to understand how to thrive in the world God created. The overall primary standard is to love God and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. God sent prophets to warn us of our misdeeds and ultimately sent Jesus Christ to redeem us. And still, our eyes glass over, only seeing what we want to see and doing only what we want to do. Many of us justify our actions projecting them as God-given. They may be self-righteous but do not meet God’s standard of righteousness. Racism will never pass God’s test of love.

We live in a time when some deep soul searching is needed. Some beautiful examples of sharing God’s love exist, caring for hurricane victims and the victims of recent gun violence, alongside some very ugly rhetoric. We need a lot more of the former and a lot less of the latter.

Prayer: Lord, guard our tongues to be uplifting now down-putting. Let the light of our love wash out the dark of hatred and bigotry. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Wise or Foolish

Living in the Spirit
November  11, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.
–Matthew 25:1-7

In the parable of the lamps, Jesus clearly delineates the difference between what is wise and what is foolish. Not being prepared for whatever is coming is foolish. In Oklahoma, most people have a storm plan with a designated place to go for safety and a kit of necessities. My kit includes two sources of lighting one battery operated and one that can be power by cranking it. I, like the bridesmaids who came prepared with more fuel for their lamps, value the ability to see in the dark.

Today we tend to complicate what is wise and what is foolish. Our government at this writing is debating a revision of our tax system with widely divergent opinions on what is wise and what is foolish, most tied to who are financial winners and losers. Some see no problem in massively increasing the national debt. Others identify such a move as a deal breaker. What gets lost in the chaos are the values that drive our efforts.

What can we glean from this parable to help us simplify our decisions regarding what is wise and what is foolish? What drives the Common Good? Do we want all our citizens to earn living wages? How can that best be accomplished? Is affordable, accessible, and available health care a right or a privilege? What is the most productive way to protect our populace from harm whether caused by internal threats or external ones? When we take the time to discuss our values, the answers to our tax situation will become clearer.

The parable of the lamps tells us to be ready to serve the Bridegroom who represents Christ. Such service includes our having a good sense of Christ’s values, so we are prepared to respond when called.

Prayer: Lord, we pray for all our elected leaders as they make decisions that will impact the lives of every citizen and ask that you grant them clarity of insight. Guide each of us as citizens to participate as responsible citizens of our nation. Guide us also in our work as citizens of your Kingdom. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

 

Death Where is thou Sting?

Living in the Spirit
November 10, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Sunday worship comes naturally to me. My first congregation met in one of the schools located every three miles in rural areas in preparation for homesteaders. Most of these schools serve the dual purpose of being a church. Mine disbanded when I was five, and my family moved to a church in the small town of about 300 people located near our farm—a town about half the same size as Sutherland Springs, Texas.

I attended church on Sunday, November 5, 2017, in a church with a membership larger than my hometown. Returned home after worship to my normal routine of watching the previously recorded Sunday news programs only to hear the news that a man had entered the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and killed Twenty-some people with others injured. The presumed shooter eventually, apparently killed himself. He had a history of violence and assumed mental disorders. 1 Corinthians 15:55 popped into my head as one woman asked, “Can you feel your heart break?”

‘Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?’

Such senseless death indeed stings those left to grieve in the moment of its occurring, and our hearts go out to all those caught in the pain of such loss. I am emboldened to continue the fight for improved mental health services and not to allow so many to fall through the gaps. Anyone with a traceable history of mental health issues or even violence should also have a traceable treatment history. Most of our nation does not have the services available to treat the most serious chronic mental health problems let alone those flying beneath the radar.

Prayer: Lord, strengthen us in the quest to heal troubled souls and offer new life to those lost in the struggle of mental illness. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Doing Justice, Assuring the Common Good

Living in the Spirit
November 8, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 78:1-7
Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
things that we have heard and known,
   that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
   we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.

He established a decree in Jacob,
   and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our ancestors
   to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them,
   the children yet unborn,
and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
   but keep his commandments;

The message is simple and clear: we must learn from our mistakes and successes, and we must work to assure that the generations to follow will not need to repeat the same learning from their experiences. We do not do a good job of either.

Congress is once again pursuing tax cut legislation based on a debunked theory that cutting the taxes on the wealthy and businesses will grow the economy so much the government will reap enough tax money to fuel the economy even when the percentage of taxes collected after the cuts were reduced markedly. I know of several instances when implementation of this scheme did not work. I know of none when it did work.

Greed and lust for power drive people to function in ways that do not recognize reality. We all do this to some degree or another. I have a friend who suffers extreme migraines after eating chocolate. Occasionally, she will sample a small morsel of chocolate and prove to herself once again that she should not eat chocolate. The only person she is hurting is herself from not applying what she learned from her history. Congress, on the other hand, causes extreme anxiety to millions of people just by introducing cuts in services to counterbalance cuts in taxes. When cuts in service are made, human beings suffer the consequences of the actions of the members of Congress passing the legislation. Congress members may never interact with the people paying a high price for Congress’ being out of touch with reality.

We are called to do justice. A piece of that is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Prayer: Lord, open the ears, eyes, and hearts of the members of Congress and state legislatures to face the real outcomes of their actions. Guide them to find ways to assure the Common Good not just what is good for the people who financially support them. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Ravenous Wolves

Living in the Spirit
November 4, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 23:1-12

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. –Matthew 23:1-7

Rarely does anyone speak the words “do what I say not what I do, ” but there are sure a lot of people practicing this philosophy. From politicians to church leaders, people speak righteously, perhaps more self-righteously, while conjuring deals in the dark that play to their power and personal interest. Like the first century scribes and Pharisees, they rant about causes that have limited if any impact on most people but do draw out strong emotional reactions and fears while missing the mark on major issues that affect millions of people with life or death consequences. How are we harmed by NFL players taking a knee at their games in protest of racism? How many people do you think will suffer from lack of healthcare when we implement proposed major cuts in Medicaid and Medicare? Such cuts do not just impact the recipients of these services. Many rural hospitals will close as a result of these cuts.

Jesus would have none of that idea in the first century or now. He held the power brokers of the day accountable for their hypocrisy. We seem to admire people who can manipulate us to their benefit. Why is that? What is so beguiling about exploiters often when we are the exploited? Are we envious of their guile?

Jesus said in Matthew 7:15, Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. We would do well to follow that advice.

Prayer: Lord, enable us as doers of your justice for all your children. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Prosper Our Work

Living in the Spirit
October 25, 2017

Scripture Reading: Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17

Turn, O Lord! How long?
   Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
   and your glorious power to their children.
   and prosper for us the work of our hands—
   O prosper the work of our hands! –Psalm:13-17

“It’s a God thing” is a phrase often used to describe what some would call a coincidence that has a divine conclusion. In a world seemingly in a downward spiral, we hunger for a glimpse of God at work saving us from ourselves as well as from the perils that surround us.

God’s presence manifests most often when God’s people are doing God’s work. Moses leads the Israelites from Egypt. Elijah takes on Ahab and Jezebel. John baptizes Jesus. The tomb is empty, and a new dawn arises. Jesus’ disciples huddled together in grief decide it is time to get on about the business of building the world Jesus envisioned and they experience violent winds and tongues of fire to empower and shepherd them on their journey.

God meets us on our paths to justice and peace. My grade school playground had a merry-go-round that was low to the ground and divided into equal segments by metal tubes that rose from the outer sides and connected in the middle. Each child would grab one of the metal tubes, and we would run as fast as we could to get it started and then jump on for the ride. Smaller children got on at the start; the runners worked together to maintain a constant speed until all were riding.  I think God manifests God’s presence most often when we commit full steam ahead to work in God’s service and join God who adds power to the ride.

Prayer: Let your work be manifest to your servants.
             and your glorious power to their children.
            and prosper for us the work of our hands—
           O prosper the work of our hands!  Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Politics and Practices

Living in the Spirit
October 21, 2017

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ –Matthew 22:15-17

Political leaders in Washington DC and Oklahoma are under the delusion that cutting taxes will put more money back into the economy. The fact they seem to miss is that we invest the vast majority of tax money quickly back into our economy.  Roads are built and maintained by people who work. In Oklahoma, last year 12 rule hospitals filed for bankruptcy, and three closed primarily from cuts in federal health care spending robbing entire communities of readily accessible health care not to mention jobs lost.

Civil government has played an important role in the development of our world since families grew to tribes and tribes needed to interact to provide for the Common Good. We may all want to gripe about paying taxes, but government serves a necessary purpose. Yes, governments need to operate efficiently and effectively and yes, governments need to handle our tax dollars wisely. The protection of the Common Good is the foundation for our otherwise thriving.

Pitting the church against the government as the Pharisees were trying to do in our scripture today is trying to catch Jesus in the politics of the day. Living under the Roman rule where its subjects were not a part of the decision-making process dictated a choice between following the rules or facing serious consequences. Rome’s religious tolerance ended at the tax collectors’ tables. Protections against such practices are in our Constitution, not to limit religion but to protect all citizens from having someone else’s religion imposed on them.

We, too, get caught up in the politics of the day, and it colors our decision-making practices as citizens in a democratic society where we do have responsibilities for assuring quality governance in the provision of the Common Good. We cannot and should not force our religious beliefs through laws on others. We can, and we must live our faith through our participation as citizens. Walking that tightrope takes courage and trust that Jesus taught us what was important. The thing is the Common Good fits nicely with Jesus’ teachings like feeding the hungry.

Prayer: Lord, give us the vision we need to see past politics and find the way to the Common Good. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Living the Word

Living in the Spirit
October 20, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

…you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming. –1 Thessalonians 1:7-10

The first Christians waited with great expectations for the bodily return of Jesus. He had promised he would come back and they anticipated it would be in their lifetime if not very soon. I wonder when the bodily return became unessential for their everyday work as they experienced his presence in the Holy Spirit.

The church at Thessalonica was a charter church. Its members seemed to come from similar cultures to the other first century churches, but they somehow moved more readily from idol worship to accepting God as monotheistic. They also were apparently able immediately to be doers of the Word and not just believers.

We, today, tend to get hung up on living the Word because of our differences in interpreting the Word. It is no wonder that Congress and state legislatures are unable to get much done. They are mirroring their constituents’ (that is us) lack of ability to live the Word rather than investing our energies in expounding our understanding of what it says. Negotiating solutions is not necessarily compromising our values. One value, for example, is that every child should be raised in a loving home with adequate resources to meet his or her basic needs.  There are many ways to reach that goal that have nothing to do with abortion, welfare, or other divisive issues. Assuring that everyone who works full time earns a living wage would help meet the basic needs requirement. Quality public education where children learn self-respect and respect for one another and gain hope for their futures is known to reduce unwanted pregnancies which reduce abortions. I fear the sad truth is we do not share the common value of quality lives for our children. Wanting to be right in our beliefs drives our values rather than caring about the people impacted by our divisions.  Also, the cynical part of me thinks our values are driven by who has the most financial gain to make from policies. The result is we live in a world of stagnation and stalemate.

There is nothing new here. Amos railed about the same problems in 750 BCE. His answer remains valuable still. We must repent of our greed and use our faith to bring us together in love to make a better world rather than making our faith a stumbling block.

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for getting caught up in divisions and stalemate. Show us how we can learn from each other to live your Word in our world today. Amen.

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.

Privileged or Persecuted

Living in the Spirit
October 19, 2017

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, –1 Thessalonians 1:2-6

Having chosen to follow Christ, we enlisted in letting God choose us for whatever mission is needed. Opening ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern our calling is a challenging prospect. I love Gideon’s* experience in hearing his call to leave his regular job and lead the army. He asked for a sign and got it and then asked for a reversal of that sign as further proof and got that too. He was a very successful general even though he doubted his skills at carrying out the assignment. Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century monk, was called to do the dishes in his monastery. From that experience, we were gifted with his book The Practice of the Presence of God teaching us the importance of remaining in communion with God in all we do.,

History tells us that the Thessalonians faced serious persecution because of their faith and they remained steadfast in following the example of Christ. In our attempts to follow the path of the early Christians, I am concerned today that we may view the loss of privilege as persecution. The two are not related. Our call is to lift the persecuted from oppression not work to maintain our privilege that enables oppression. Loving God and loving one another requires us to want the very best for all, which includes both equity of opportunity and equality of participation in society.

Prayer: Lord, open our hearts to your call to do justice for all not just for a few. Amen.

*See Judges 6-8

All scriptures are quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights are reserved.