Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Music Monday: My God

“My God” by Crashdog

“My God doesn’t hand out disease as a punishment.
My God doesn’t look with joy on your torment.
My God doesn’t draw back His hand from any child.
My God lives to touch and heal and reconcile.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender

Lord Jesus Christ,
take my freedom, my will, my memory.
All that I have and cherish, You have given me.
I surrender it all to be guided by Your will.
Your grace and Your love are wealth enough for me.
Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.

Attributed to the sixteenth century founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, this simple prayer reminds us that we are called to live as Jesus lived, obeying the will of God alone.

I’ve have loved this prayer since I first came across it several years ago. It is a hard prayer for me to say, because I am proud, willful and sinful, which is part of why I love it so much. It helps to remind me to be less proud, to be less willful, that I should not live for my own desires or be puffed up by my own achievements, but that I should recognize all is vanity unless I am living in full submission to the will of Jesus Christ who became incarnate to save all humanity. I pray that someday God will fully cleanse me of my willfulness and pride and I might be able to live and not just say the words of this prayer.

I pray also that this prayer may be as inspiring to others as it has been to me.

Music Monday: You Can’t Be a Beacon

“You Can’t Be a Beacon” by Donna Fargo

“There’s a little light in all of us by God’s design,
But you can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”

The economics of the Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a pious work that gives a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest Christians. The Didache probably originates in the latter half of the first century or the early part of the second century. While we certainly can’t accord it the same authority that we grant Scripture, we can use it to see how early Christian understood the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. With that in mind, let us look at how the writer or writers of the Didache understood the proper economic relationships Christians should cultivate.

The text begins by laying out a Way of Life and a Way of Death, echoing Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:8, and Matthew 7:13-14. The Didache defines the way of life as Christ’s twofold commandment:

The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator and secondly they neighbour as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.

This Way of Life has clear echos of Christ’s teachings in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:35-40, and Luke 10:25-38. The Way of Life also reflects Old Testament readings, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, and Tobit 4:15. The Didache expands upon exactly what it would mean to live according to the Way of Life like so:

Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is in point here:  “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”

The teaching here is clear: as Christians we should share whatever extra we have with everyone in need because this is what God wants us to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Hebrews 13:16, Tobit 4:7-11, Tobit 4:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-11) . However, Christians should also not con people into giving when the receiver is not in need. The sort of avarice that seeks money even when one lives in comfort is condemned. The condemnation of greed is reconfirmed in more general terms when the Didache states “You are not to be avaricious or extortionate” which accords with St. Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Didache also tells its readers:

Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own (cf. Acts 2:44-45). If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things mortal?

Again, the understanding of Christ’s gospel is clear. We are to give to all who need unconditionally and not to view what we possess as our own property. All of Creation is a gift from God, but we are like sojourners passing through this world. What we may have gathered in it is no credit to us, but to God. This is what He taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:1-18 when he declares that every seventh year all debts are to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 when he commanded that those who farm leave some of their crops in the field because it belong not to those who toiled, but to those who could not provide for themselves, and in Leviticus where the Lord declares the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and property is returned to its previous owners because “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). While there may be room for Christians to possess property in private, there is no room in Christianity for private property in the modern sense. All we have comes from the Lord and belongs to our neighbors.

The Didache professes an economic stance that reflects the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments. God’s people are to be generous and selfless. We are to seek economic relationships with one another that emphasize giving rather than receiving, that places the common good above personal profits. We should avoid, as much as possible, participating in or promoting economic systems that exploit the poor, and we should reject the notion of private property. That is the economy of the Way of Life.

In contrast to the Way of Life, which is characterized by generosity, humility, and selflessness, the Didache declares that the Way of Death is characterized by self-will and avarice, among many other sins, and is walked by those

who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk into inequity.

Those who lack charity and generosity are soundly condemned. Those who ignore the plight of the poor and suffering, but who aid the rich and seek their own material benefit are “altogether sunk into inequity” and do not know God, no matter how much they might profess Him with their lips (cf. Luke 6:46-49). Every day we can see those who walk the Way of Death in America. They cut funding for food stamps and welfare. They seek to evict the homeless from their cities rather than helping to provide them with basic necessities. They pass beggars on the street and give them nothing because they think to themselves, “They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze.” They lay in bed plotting their next corporate merger or how much the next round of layoffs will line the pockets of their stock holders. These are the Godless and the condemned. Let us not choose their way, but the way of Christ, the Way of Life.

 

Typhoon Yolanda and the need to care for God’s creation

When Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) tore through the Philippines, it killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands, creating a situation that one eye witness called “worse than Hell.” The devastation has prompted an outpouring of aid that I pray will remain strong. But it should also prompt us to think about what roll we played in creating Typhoon Yolanda. While it’s not easy to link one storm to human-caused climate change, the pattern of increasingly severe weather that is characterized by superstorms like Typhoon Yolanda, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy and the rising sea levels that worsened the devastation in the Philippines are clearly caused by the destruction humanity and capitalism have wrought on the environment.

The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, recently addressed a statement those attending the latest round of United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, calling for “prompt and practical results” to come out of the talks. In it he wrote:

[T]here are no two ways of looking at either the world or God. There is no distinction between concern for human welfare and concern for ecological preservation. The way we relate to nature as creation directly reflects the way we believe in God as Creator of all things. The sensitivity with which we handle the natural environment clearly mirrors the sacredness that we reserve for the divine.

Moreover, scientists estimate that those most hurt by global warming in the years to come, are those who can least afford it. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the questions that will be asked of us all at the final moment of accountability will not be about our religious observance but on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, comforted the sick, and cared for captives.

Our reckless consumption of the earth’s resources – energy, water, and forests – threatens us with irreversible climate change. Burning more fuel than we need in an overpopulated city, we may contribute to droughts or floods thousands of miles away.

To restore the planet we need a spiritual worldview, which brings frugality and simplicity, humility and respect. We must constantly be aware of the impact of our actions on all of creation. We must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs. We must choose to care for creation; otherwise, we do not really care about anything at all.

It is long past time that the governments of the world take real, immediate steps to curb the the global destruction they have condoned by encouraging large-scale exploitation by corporations more interested in profits than people. It is long past times we as a society and as individuals repent for the part we have taken in fostering the materialistic culture that worships Mammon rather than God. It is long past time we realize that our exploitation of the environment is a symptom of our fallenness, not a gift from God.

We should take seriously our role as stewards of the creation that God called “good.” We should also recognize When we protect our environment, we protect the poor and the oppressed as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who are often forced to live in the most marginal of environments and thus suffer the most during natural disasters. After all, Christ told us He would judge us based on how well we tended to the needs of the poorest and weakest of our brethren (Matthew 25:31-46).

Finally, please consider giving whatever you can to aid those suffering in the Philippines:

Red Cross

Save The Children

Philippines Red Cross 

American Red Cross Donate

British Red Cross Donate

Unicef Donate

Direct Relief Donate

World Food Program Donate

Doctors Without Borders Donate

The Example of Tobit

The Old Testament Book of Tobit is an often overlooked part of Christian scriptures. In part, the neglect of Tobit can be explained by the Protestant rejection of significant sections of the Christian Old Testament, which included Tobit, despite the fact that Tobit and these other books were widely accepted as holy scripture by the early Church and are still part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures. While one may be a good Christian without ever having read Tobit, if we ignore Tobit, we lose a wonderful example of how to live a righteous life in the eyes of God, a life we Christians would do well to emulate.

Tobit takes place during the Assyrian exile, a time of hardship and persecution for the Israelites who had been taken from their homeland. The Israelites were forced to live among pagans, and according to Tobit, many chose to live and worship as the pagans did, but Tobit remained true to God and did not neglect his duty to care for others (Tobit 1:10-11). In Tobit 1:16-17 it is written:

In the days of Shalmaneser, I did much almsgiving to my brothers. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw anyone of my people dead, cast outside the wall of Nineveh, I would bury him.

Tobit did not allow his hardships to harden is heart. In fact, he was so compassionate that he was willing to make himself ritually unclean to bury his kinsmen who had been executed by the Assyrians and left to rot and be devoured by animals outside the walls of Nineveh. More than risking ritual uncleanliness, Tobit was breaking the law by burying executed Israelites and eventually had to flee for his own life while his possessions were confiscated (Tobit 1:18-20).

Tobit eventually returned to his home when the threat of his execution had been lifted. His family prepared a large feast in celebration, and when Tobit saw how much good food there was, he sent his son into town to find a poor person to share in their bounty (Tobit 2:1-2). Even after having hid for weeks in a cave, Tobit’s heart never turned from God or his neighbors. When he saw his own abundance he knew it could supply the need of another (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:14). But before he could find a fellow Israelite in need, Tobit’s son ran back to the house to tell his father that a man laid murdered in the street (Tobit 2:3). Without even touching his food, Tobit removed the body from the market place and buried it that night, even as his neighbors warned that the Assyrians might again seek to execute him for such an act (Tobit 2:4-8). Tobit is willing to sacrifice his life to do what is right even for those who, because they are dead, cannot possibly thank him or repay his selflessness.

Later, Tobit admonishes his son with this advice:

My son, remember the Lord our God all your days and do not desire to sin or to disobey His commandments. Do righteousness all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you walk in the truth, you will be successful in your works. Do almsgiving, do not let your eye be envious (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9). Do not turn your face away from any poor man, so the face of God will not be turned away from you (cf. Matthew 25:41-46). Do almsgiving based on the quantity of your possessions. If you possess only a few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. You are storing up a good treasure for yourself in the day of necessity (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). For almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness. Indeed almsgiving is a good gift for all who do it before the Most High (cf. Hebrews 13:16).

Do not keep overnight the wages of any man who works for you, bu pay him immediately (cf. Deuteronomy 24:15). If you serve God, He will pay you. Give heed to yourself, my son, in all your works, and be disciplined in all your conduct. What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone (cf. Mark 12:31)…From your bread, give to him who is hungry and from your clothing, give to the naked (cf. Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, and James 2:15-17). If you have more than you need, do almsgiving, and do not let your eye envy the almsgiving when you do it.

(Tobit 4:5-11,14-15a,16)

We can see in the example of Tobit’s actions and his advice to his son a radical faith and righteousness. Tobit lived out his love for his neighbor even when he risked losing his life. In times of bounty and hardship alike he kept his heart focused on God and sought always to help those around him. He preached to his son the radical charity and almsgiving that is so characteristic of the New Testament. If Tobit could be so righteous even without the example of the Incarnate Christ, shouldn’t we strive to be even more so?

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and a couple videos

Rob Bell caused quite a controversy in 2011 when he published Love Wins, a book that had the temerity to suggest that God loves humanity, and that the central task facing Christians is to love God and to love our neighbors through real, concrete actions. Sadly, this work inspired a large amount of hostile, at times vitriolic, responses. When Love Wins was published, I had never heard of Rob Bell. I don’t come from an Evangelical background and had had fairly limited contact with Evangelical Christians, but even I couldn’t miss the buzz around Love Wins. One of the things I came across was this first video interview with Rob Bell, which I watched to get some idea of what his book was about:

“The book is about the urgency of Christ’s call to respond and live now and partner with God in bringing heaven to earth. The book is about the urgent, present availability of the kingdom, of eternal life now, of conscious connection and vibrant union with the good of the universe who wants to shape us and transform us and meld our hearts and do something about the hells on earth right now.”—Rob Bell

I really appreciated Bell’s emphasis in the interview on God’s love and God’s call to His followers act in the real world in real ways. I fear too often the message of love gets lost in messages of judgement and wrath and that the Christian duty to be a servant to our neighbors too often gets lost in people’s desire for comfort and overemphasis on the purely spiritual aspects of Christianity or the narcissistic and selfish emphasis on personal salvation. Yes, Jesus came to save individual sinners, but he also came to save all people and all Creation, and he asks us to participate in this salvation.

It took me a couple years to finally track down an audiobook copy of Love Wins and listen too it. I found the book to be inspiring and would like to explore it more deeply in a future post, once I can set aside some time to reread it. I’d recommend that any curious Christian who hasn’t yet read Love Wins check it out. Even if you don’t agree with some of the things (or most of the things) Rob Bell says, I think he raises some much needed questions about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ.

For now, I’ll leave you with another video of Rob Bell from PBS, which unfortunately won’t embed in this post. And remember, even if you don’t care for Bell, God is Love (1 John 4:7) and Christ admonishes us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) for whatsoever we do to them we do unto Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2047496828/

Tumblr, a racist rape-endorser, and Obamacare

So the other day, I posted this quote to my Tumblr:

We are mystified as to how can good Christian men and women oppose – in some cases in the name of religion — providing health care for it citizens. … Adequate healthcare for all should be championed by evangelical Christians who follow the teaching of Scripture.

I want to challenge my American evangelicals friends to consider whether your views of health care are truly biblical, and to consider whether you have been blinded by a culture of hyper-individualism, economic rationalism, placing faith in market forces. Because to outsiders the anti-Obamacare thing looks like “civil religion,” a syncretistic concoction of Christian teaching, Republican partisanship, capitalistic-worship, and social Darwinism with its mantra of the survival of the fittest.

The quote was taken from “American evangelicalism is defined by political tribalism” on Patheos.

The quote was pretty soon thereafter reblogged by blondetraditionalist, who added this factually inaccurate rant:

I don’t oppose Obamacare because of “hyper-individualism” or “social Darwinism,” I oppose it because it’s the stupidest and possibly one of the most evil laws to grace this nation.
Obamacare is not only unconstitutional, it’s also unbiblical. Forcing people to pay outrageous sums of money for a subpar service they don’t want, or forcing them to pay to NOT have the service, is un-Christlike. Forcing companies to cancel life-saving insurance policies, leaving people with the choice of either going bankrupt while trying to stay alive, or die because they can’t afford the medical care, is un-Christlike. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will create death panels is un-Christlike. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will cause people to lose their jobs or have their much-needed hours severely cut back because employers can’t afford it is un-Christlike. Letting the people who created the law exempt themselves from what they know is a shitty healthcare service, is un-Christlike.
So maybe people who don’t know what they’re talking about should keep their mouths shut.

The rant has become popular enough among some conservative Tumblr’s that I thought I’d address it here. Let’s look at blondetraditionalist’s concerns one by one.

1. Obamacare is not only unconstitutional, it’s also unbiblical.

The Supreme Court ruled Obamacare constitutional:

http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2012/06/28/health-care-supreme-court/

If Fox News is too liberal of a source for you, you can always read the Supreme Court’s decision yourself.

The Bible says very little that could invariably be taken as a condemnation of the Affordable Care Act (surprise). Without a fuller theological argument from blondetraditionalist based on sound exegesis, this one’s hard to answer because it seems so baseless. The Bible, however, does have a lot to say about the importance of healing the sick, which could suggest that Obamacare might be in line with Christ’s teachings.

2. Forcing people to pay outrageous sums of money for a subpar service they don’t want, or forcing them to pay to NOT have the service, is un-Christlike.

Not sure where she’s getting here evidence for “outrageous sums of money” or “subpar service,” but it’s the for-profit insurance companies that set the premiums and define the services of their policies, not the federal government. If you want to view the federal government as the modern-day equivalent of Caesar, the “render unto Caesar” the money with Caesar’s face on it (or Jackson’s, Lincoln’s, Grant’s, Franklin’s) and pay the healthcare tax, as Paul would urge (Romans 13:6).

3. Forcing companies to cancel life-saving insurance policies, leaving people with the choice of either going bankrupt while trying to stay alive, or die because they can’t afford the medical care, is un-Christlike.

People are already being forced to choose between bankruptcy and death. That’s the pre-Obamacare status quo. And health insurance companies could deny policies or charge exorbitant rates for people with “pre-existing conditions,” condemning them to suffering and death or crippling poverty. That’s a large part of what the law is trying solve.

79 million Americans had trouble paying there debt under before Obamacare

:http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/cf-7mu081908.php

More than 60% of bankruptcies were do to health care costs:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/05/bankruptcy.medical.bills/index.html?_s=PM:HEALTH

Over 47 million Americans lacked health insurance pre-Obamacare:

http://kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/

4. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will create death panels is un-Christlike.

Death panels were never a thing. Ever. They were never part of the law or any proposed version of it.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2013/01/09/why-it-is-so-difficult-to-kill-the-death-panel-myth/

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2009/aug/10/palin-death-panel-remark-sets-truth-o-meter-fire/

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/palin-vs-obama-death-panels/

http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/10/01/15-myths-the-media-should-ignore-during-obamaca/196181

http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/euthanasia.asp

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/story?id=8295708

5. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will cause people to lose their jobs or have their much-needed hours severely cut back because employers can’t afford it is un-Christlike.

Again, no evidence for blondetraditionalist’s argument. Again, cut backs are made at the decision of the employer and are not mandated by law.

6. Letting the people who created the law exempt themselves from what they know is a shitty healthcare service, is un-Christlike.

Congress isn’t exempt from the Affordable Care Act:

http://www.factcheck.org/2013/05/congress-and-an-exemption-from-obamacare/

http://www.factcheck.org/2010/01/congress-exempt-from-health-bill/

http://www.factcheck.org/2013/08/no-special-subsidy-for-congress/

Since blondetraditionalist frames her opposition to Obamacare in terms of how Christlike she thinks it is, let’s see what she thinks is Christlike. She thinks advocating that women who don’t hate “illegal” immigrants should be raped is Christlike. She thinks reblogging pictures of Nazis is Christlike. She thinks regularly reblogging from racist Tumblrs is Christlike. It’s pretty clear that blondetraditionalist has no idea who Christ was, what He taught, or how to act in imitation of Him.

Remember conservative tumblrites, when you reblog blondetraditionalist’s anti-Obamacare rant, you’re not only spreading lies, you’re also associating yourself with a racist rape apologist. I don’t think that’s what Jesus would have done.

Music Monday: Jesus Christ

“Jesus Christ” by Woody Guthrie

“Jesus Christ was a man who traveled through the land,
A hard-working man and brave.
He said to the rich, ‘Give your money to the poor,’
But they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.”

What I Mean by (Christian) Socialism

Socialism is a term fraught with meaning and misunderstanding. To many, especially in the tea party movement, socialism is equated with nearly everything that government does. To others, socialism is defined by the oppressive, totalitarian regimes of the Soviet Union, China, and even Nazi Germany. For some socialism is defined by the works of Karl Marx. For others, socialism is the desirable social services that governments can provide through taxes without fundamentally challenging the basic structures of capitalism. For some, socialism is a centralized, command economy run by bureaucrats. For others, socialism is the outgrowth of a healthy democracy. For some, socialism is big government. For others, it is anarchism.

Part of the problem is that there are many groups and individuals that advocate a wide variety of economic programs and political philosophies under the umbrella of socialism. These range from certain strands of anarchism and social democracy movements that emphasize varying degrees of volunteerism and democracy to hardline Marxist-Leninists and Maoists who advocate insurgency and full communism. These movements generally share the belief that the means of producing wealth (land, machinery, natural resources, etc.) should in some way be controlled by society, rather than by individuals with enough power to control others’ access to the means of production. How they seek to implement this social control of the means of production is where they diverge, often widely. Another part of the problem is that those who oppose socialism, intentionally and accidentally distort different versions of socialism, creating caricatures of the different movements.

The third part of the problem, with regards to this blog, is that I am somewhat vague in what I mean by socialism. This is because I don’t adhere to any particular dogma about how socialism is to be achieved. I’m not Leninist nor a Trotskyist. I’m not an anarchist (at least not strictly). I’m not a social democrat. I am not a De Leonist nor a Fourierist. I am a Christian socialist, and what that means for me is that…

…when I advocate socialism, I am not:

  • advocating a violent revolution,
  • advocating for totalitarian regime,
  • seeking to oppress the rich,
  • advocating a centralized, state-run economy,
  • necessarily advocating for a total dissolution of the market economy.

…when I advocate socialism, I am:

  • promoting a peaceful transition away from global capitalism and routine worker exploitation,
  • advocating a more equitable distribution of wealth,
  • seeking a less hierarchical, decentralized, worker-run economy,
  • advocating a society based on the ideas of liberty and equality,
  • seeking a community-centered way of life,
  • advocating a truly democratic form of government,
  • seeking an end to poverty and all forms of oppression.

…when I advocate Christian socialism, I am not:

  • advocating Marxism with a thin veneer of Christian symbolism,
  • calling for a theocracy that oppresses non-Christians,
  • advocating a society that requires all its members to be Christian,
  • promoting one particular branch of Christianity over all others.

…when I advocate Christian socialism, I am:

  • seeking to establish the Kingdom of God within my own heart,
  • seeking to establish the Kingdom of God in the world,
  • advocating an economic system that is faithful to the moral and economic teachings of the Bible,
  • advocating an economy, government, and society based on love for one’s neighbor rather than love of material things.