Friday, July 31, 2009

The Bible and Economics...

Sunset Flowers
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Leviticus 1-19

Part of an ongoing series looking at all the many passages in the Bible that deal with wealth and poverty issues. You can see the links to the other passages in the series under the heading "The Bible and Economics" below.

Today, I'm looking at Leviticus, which has a LOT to say about Stuff. Of course, Leviticus contains many of the Laws given by God to Israel, and as such, there are many passages about how to resolve Stuff disputes (ie, what to do when someone steals or harms something belonging to another) and labor disputes and disputes about slaves, etc. Let's look at a sampling of these, at least...

When anyone is guilty in any of these ways, he must confess in what way he has sinned and, as a penalty for the sin he has committed, he must bring to the LORD a female lamb or goat...

If he cannot afford a lamb, he is to bring two doves or two young pigeons to the LORD as a penalty for his sin...

If, however, he cannot afford two doves or two young pigeons, he is to bring as an offering for his sin a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a sin offering.

~Lev 5:5-11

[Here, we have an instance of making allowances for the poor. If you sinned, you were to bring a lamb as an offering. However, if you couldn't afford a lamb, you were to bring two doves OR, if you couldn't afford that, a tenth of an ephah of fine flour. The point appears to be that we ought to make allowances for the poor and recognize that not everyone can afford everything equally and, it seems to me, justice therefore demands that we make allowances. While this theme is repeated often in the Bible, it does seem to be a bit in contrast to the spirit of "equal payment, regardless" we saw in an earlier look at Genesis - "Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD".]

Carrying on in Leviticus...

The LORD said to Moses: "If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do - when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about.

He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. ~Lev 6:1-5

Straightforward enough, if you steal or defraud, you must make amends AND THEN SOME. An interesting note is that there are no jails in Israel. Just punishment for crimes and "sin offerings," on top of restitution. Of course, when the laws were written they would have been a nomadic people, so it would be hard to have a jail. Still, I wonder how that would fly today? Hmmm... Jumping ahead, then... [and I won't quote it, but I always chuckle when I read in Lev 14 about the "Cleansing from Mildew," I don't know why, it just seems funny in the Bible.]

"Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him."

"Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight."

"Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD."

"Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."

"Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD."

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

"Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah and an honest hin. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt."

~Lev 19:13-15; 30; 33-35

I'll end there for now. There is still more in Leviticus, including the Sabbath laws, which I think are EXTREMELY pertinent to what the Bible has to say about wealth and poverty, so I'll come back to that later. Thoughts on all this?

Monday, July 27, 2009

White-Washed Tombs

White Turtle Shell
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
I was recently in a conversation with a true patriarchalist (ie, doesn't think women should vote!! Literally!) who is just a bit irrational in more ways than one. He was complaining viciously about CPS (Child Protective Services) saying that they are kidnappers and that they "arrest the victim" when they intervene (ie, removing the child from danger = "arrest"). He brought up the red herring of "taking care of families ought to be the business of churches and communities and families, not the government," in order to further his rant against CPS. I responded...

On at least ONE point, you are right on, though. Churches and families OUGHT to be doing more about problems like this. I can tell you this, if the Church stepped up and "solved" homelessness and provided solutions for all the abused and mentally ill out there, it would put government right out of the welfare business and there's nothing in the world stopping the church (or synagogues or community groups, etc) from doing so.

Not only that, but I'd be willing to bet (since I know some of the people involved) that the vast majority of government social worker types would rejoice to be thus put out of jobs. Quite literally whoop and holler and say "Hallelujah! I'm out of a job because they eliminated the need for me!"

Further, I'd wager that such actions would do more to promote evangelism and church growth than ten million revival services or a hundred million televangelists. So, I'm glad to hear you say that churches should step up.

You may or may not know that "On any given night, 248,500 persons in families are homeless (HUD's 3rd Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress)," [source], or that "1.6 million people lived in transitional housing or in a shelter in 2008, slightly more than in the previous year. But families now make up about one-third of that number [ie, ~500,000]..."[source], or that it is estimated that up to 1/3 of the homeless population are US military veterans (an estimated 131,000 homeless on any given night) [ source], or that "the population of homeless children in the United States is estimated to range from five hundred thousand to more than two million," [source] or that there are an estimated 3.3 million people with severe mental illnesses [ source] - and that these numbers are very low estimates. Given all that and more, we can see that there are HUGE ministry opportunities for the church and families to step up and take action, to do with/for "the least of these."

I have to tell you, I am very glad that we can agree that the church should be doing more.

So, how many of these millions are you and your church helping right now?

How many more can we put you down for?

Are you prepared to take in a mentally challenged homeless lady and help her navigate through the rest of her life with her limitations?

Do you have room in your home for one more homeless family?

I have loved ones who work for Christian homelessness organizations, housing homeless families and striving to get them back in their homes and to keep their families intact. I'll be glad to give you the address so you can send a large check; maybe start a drive at your church to make more of an impact - unfortunately, the agency (like many helping agencies) are struggling right now, having not enough money to meet all the needs. Can we put you down for $100,000? $500,000?

Our church has homes we operate to help keep homeless women and their children off the streets. Can we expect a check from you to double our budget in order to help twice as many marginalized families who have no other support?

You get my point, I hope. The need is great and I would love it if churches and communities did more. In the meantime, if there is a child that is endangered, a mentally ill person who is homeless, a veteran who is in need of assistance, I'm more than glad to have a government agency step in and do something when we're all tapped out at our church and in my home.

When you start putting forth your part ("adopting" a homeless family, supporting with Big Bucks and time at a mental health agency or a homeless shelter, etc) to solve these problems, you can complain about the government doing a bad job. Until then, put up or shut up. Please.


I did a little search and found that WikiAnswers estimates that there are 450,000 churches in the US - Gallup estimates something like 320,000. If we assume that there are about, let's say, 4.5 million people who are homeless, mentally ill or otherwise in need of more support (ie, the least of these) and take the larger church estimate of 450,000, that means that each church could take responsibility for assisting ten people in need of serious support - some for the rest of their lives - and make a serious dent in these problems.

Once each church, faith tradition and community group/individuals starts putting forth THAT sort of effort to deal with problems in the US (of course, that's ONLY the US, the world's wealthiest nation, but still, it's a starting point...), THEN the complainers might have some TINY room to legitimately complain a little.

Until then...

Monday, July 20, 2009

On a cool July day...

Donna and Dan 1
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
The weather of late has been phenomenal. July in the midwest is supposed to be sweltering, humid, uncomfortable at best - something with which to contend and put up with. However, we've been enjoying 70 degree days and pleasantly cool 60 degree evenings these last few days.

Such weather demands praise and respect. It should be expected that one not neglect such grace, or that you do so at your own risk. A sacrificial offering of a walk in the park, perhaps, or along a stream or by the riverside, lost in the loving shade of a grove of trees.

Donna and I worshiped at the park on Sunday. Hallelujah, what a glorious green day! The rabbits were all out, enjoying the day and refused to believe any harm could come their way, allowing me to approach within just a few feet of them before they scampered away.

The bird sanctuary was alive with song and praise and the trees all waved their branches with ecstatic whispered shouts.

My one complaint is that this was an urban park and I could still hear the sound of the Devil Automobeel. That constant growl and hiss is a cancer to my soul, scraping at my insides like an angry rust determined to eat me alive.

"Satan, get thee behind me!"

Nonetheless, Donna and I were able to enjoy the rhapsody of Creation on a short walk through Eden.

Enjoy cool summer days without fail, without delay. Such gifts are short-lived and soon-forgotten. The glory found is life-giving and certain to lead to resurrection for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Preservationist

Originally uploaded by paynehollow
I just finished reading a compelling novel by David Maine called, The Preservationist. It's a first novel for Maine and he has done a magnificent job in retelling the Noah story, filling in a lot of the dirty details that the job of building and filling an ark would entail. HOW does one get all those animals there? How does one keep the lions from eating the gazelles?

What's life like aboard a big floating zoo for months on end? How does it feel to see the world destroyed?

Little answers, big answers, sometimes no answers, as in real life.

The thing that mostly makes the book so well done, I think, is how Maine brings the characters to life. Maine uses an old 16th century Bible for quotes and for spellings, so the names aren't always the traditional spellings we're used to. We meet crusty old Noe, The Wife (all the name she's given), the Boys (Sem, Cham and Japheth) and their wonderful wives (Bera, Ilya and Mirn).

First of all, I should note that this is not traditional Children's Sunday School literature. Primarily because of the sometimes vivid descriptions of mating happening between the adults (vivid, not erotic or pornographic). And, at first, I found it a bit disgusting as the author described in fairly honest terms a patriarchal world, where women/girls are bought, sold, traded and handed off as chattel to be bedded down. It describes the world much as it likely was, in that regards. An unpleasant thought.

But the redemption (at least in this area) is how marvelously strong and smart these women are. They are the scientists, the reasonable ones, the deep, seasoned thinkers. They just have to be careful about letting on that they're smarter than their husbands!

Near the end, Noe's wife is talking with him. Noe - who used to commune with God and hear God's voice, setting him apart as special - no longer hears God's voice after they have completed their journey.

"Oh husband. The test doesn't end when the flood does. It's only the start." (Noe's wife speaking)

"Without Yahweh whispering in your ear you're no more nor less than anybody else. No special assurance that you're blessed or that God gives a rat's ass what happens to you."

Noe stares at the dirt floor. Such thoughts had crossed his mind, in slightly more refined terms...

Humorous, irreverent, delightful discussions such as this are what makes this book so fantastic and bright. As noted, Maine draws the women in incredibly powerful terms in quite a few lines (the dialog tends to be brief snatches of conversation).

The chapters are each written from different character's points of view, which is slightly unbalancing, but offers a nicely rounded view of the characters and situation. In one of Ilya's chapters, she ponders about the various types of rocks (she looks at things with a scientist's eye)...

Another mystery. I sighed - another explanation, I was certain, waiting only to be chanced upon. Like the meanings of the constellations, or the secret of how birds fly. Did Yahweh pepper the world with conundrums such has these for His own amusement, I wondered, or did He do it as a challenge to us?

Each character is unique and appealing in their own way, yet with all too human flaws. Serious Sem, the firstborn, who strives to be like Noah. Strong and opinionated Cham, who is a hard worker and a loving husband, but has a mean streak. Silly Japheth, the youngest who still acts the little boy to his wife, Mirn's little girl (wise beyond what anyone recognizes). Glorious human characters in which I was quickly and richly invested.

As long as you don't mind your biblical stories told with humor and irreverence, I highly recommend The Preservationist (even, or perhaps especially, if you're not normally the type to read Bible stories...)

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Parable...

Free Oxygen
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
I posted this as a response at another blog and thought I'd bring it over here for consideration...

There were two fellas arguing one day over Aesop's Fables.

"Is!" shouted one.

"Isn't!" shouted the other.

A third fella happened along. "What are you arguing about?" he asked.

"Bob here thinks that Aesop's fables have factually incorrect information in them! Can you imagine!"

"Yes, what of it? Ralph here thinks that grasshopper and ants actually talk, like they did in Aesop's story! How ridiculous!"

On and on they argued. Ralph insisting that the facts in Aesop's stories are literally and factually true, while Bob rejecting such a scientifically implausible proposition.

"Tell me," said the third fella, "What is the point of the Ant and the Grasshopper story?"

"To save," said Ralph.

"To work hard," said Bob.

"To be prudent and wise," they both said together!

"So," the third fella asked, "what sort of stories ARE Aesop's Fables?"

"Stories of Wisdom," they answered.

"Does it matter to the Truth of the story, Ralph, whether the ant and grasshopper actually talked?" he asked.

"Yes!" Ralph insisted. At first. "Well, not to the larger Truths, no, but if the facts aren't right, how do we know the Truths are right??"

"Bob, if the ant and grasshopper DID talk, would that impact the Truth of the story?"

"Well, no," said Bob. "But it would defy the laws of science as we know them!"

"Wouldn't it be wiser, then, to consider the Fables to be stories of Truth, regardless of facts? In fact, isn't arguing about the little facts causing you to miss altogether the WHOLE POINT of the stories?"


Or, looking at it another way: We generally recognize that some of the books of the bible are poetry, some are proverbs, some tell history stories. And we further recognize that each type of book and story needs to be interpreted just a bit differently (maybe a lot differently), right?

Well, is it not true that the Bible as a whole is a book of Wisdom? It was not written as a science book to be read with an eye to empirical evidence so much, right? It was not written as a history book with a detailed eye on dates and names, yes?

It is a Wisdom Book, a Book of Truths. The reality that the world was NOT created in six days in no way diminishes the Truth of God's creation of the world, unless we allow it to diminish it for ourselves.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Open Season...

Not A Bear
Originally uploaded by paynehollow
Okay, forgive me for this, but no new SNL this weekend, no Stewart or Colbert, yet. So tell me: What's your funniest Sarah Palin crack?