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 through the book of Deuteronomy. I’m grabbing excerpts from the first 15 chapters, but I think one can make the case that these excerpts represent a line of reasoning offered by God for HOW and WHY we ought to care for the poor, the foreigner, the outcast, and what that would look like at a societal level. These passages contain the rather audacious and amazing claim: There need be NO poor among you.
Do these rules/guidelines/commands really represent a systematic plan from God for EFFECTIVELY dealing with the problem of poverty in the real world – in a real nation? It seems to me the answer is Yes!
[With the caveat that this passage goes on to point out that there WILL still be the poor amongst them, presumably because they would not follow a systematic plan to deal with poverty.]
How does that work?! Something worth considering, seems to me.
In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand...
The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today.
Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors.
Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep God's commands. God humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years...
Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing [!?!]; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe God's commands, laws and decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
God led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. God brought you water out of hard rock. God gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is GOD who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to God, to love God, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
...For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the LORD’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed.
You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, God will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. For the LORD your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.
If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.
Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.
Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.
What do you think? Are these type of passages speaking of a specific plan (for that specific time and place) for effectively dealing with poverty on a societal level?
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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.
Monday, March 28, 2011
I've had some related conversations lately on the topics of criminalization and regulation of behaviors. I thought I'd bring the topic here. Some of the conversations went like this...
I made the point that I am fine with criminalizing behavior that is harmful (ie, your right to swing your fist ends at my nose) and was generally opposed to criminalizing behavior that isn't harmful.
For instance, even if you disagree with gay marriage, where's the actual, physical harm? I KNOW that some think there is spiritual harm in gay marriage, but we don't generally criminalize those behaviors that cause spiritual harm, only that which causes physical harm. I am strongly opposed to the notion of trying to criminalize that behavior which SOME MIGHT THINK causes spiritual harm. That is not the proper role of gov't.
Anyway, I am fine with criminalizing that behavior which causes actual harm. As are most people. We have no problem making it against the law to take something which does not belong to you - taking my bicycle, taking her barbie doll, whatever, we rightfully criminalize theft because of the obvious harm by one to another.
FURTHER, I am generally fine with the notion of regulating/taxing other behaviors that cause harm at the larger level. One person driving a car is not necessarily dangerous or harmful in and of itself. BUT, 200 MILLION people driving cars, emiting toxins, causing wrecks... THIS does cause harm.
In saying this, one person asked...
How much power are you willing to cede to the government to regulate your actions? At what point do we start calling it tyranny?
I’m willing and desiring that the People would say to a company that would pollute the groundwater, “You can’t do that.” Are you willing to cede to enterprise your right to clean water? At what point does “free market” become tyranny?
Don’t be melodramatic. I’m speaking of behavior that has measurably harmful effects. The right of the coal company to blow up a mountaintop ends at the People’s right to clean water and intact mountains. Do I support the freedom of a coal company to dig for coal? Yes. Do I support the People’s freedom to regulate that behavior if and when it becomes toxic, dangerous or at a loss to the People? Yes! It would be ridiculous not to do so.
To give up our right to do so IS to give up freedom.
Obviously, at SOME point, regulations and laws could lean towards tyranny, or at least be overbearing and counterproductive. I think of the Prohibition laws against alcohol back in the day, or the prohibiiton laws of today against marijuana and other drugs.
But there is a line somewhere that needs to be drawn.
This critic seemed to be presenting this as if on ONE side his side) there is the fight for liberty at all costs and on the OTHER side (mine) there is the attempt to promote tyranny. As already noted, BOTH sides involve a loss of liberty.
Telling a motorist that he has to drive 25 mph in a residential zone IS taking away “liberty” – the freedom to drive as fast as he wants – but we’d be stupid NOT to regulate that behavior.
The thing is, we have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We DON’T have a right to take that away from others. THAT’s the difference I’m speaking of...
This person also said...
There is an extremely fine line between regulation and tyranny, so fine no one can really say where it is. When the government regulates pay? When it sets production? When it starts regulating what you eat, or how much you eat? How far you can drive? What you can drive?
I responded that I thought he was making this too hard: We have a right, as a People, to protect our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. As a result, we have a right and obligation to either criminalize or regulate behavior that takes away these.
"So fine that no one can really say where it is?" Of course we can and need to draw lines! Will these lines be perfect? No, but they are necessary nonetheless.
We already limit what you can drive: You can’t drive a tank. You can’t drive a street rocket.
I was asked...
Tell me where regulation ends and tyranny begins, in the name of “protection”.
The limit is, that which causes harm to others. When we allow people to take away the rights of others to life, liberty, etc in order to give OTHERS the right to make money, drive as fast as they want, blow up whatever they want, pollute, etc, we will have an ugly, undesirable society. I won't engage in the same sort of hyperbole as this critic and call it "tyranny," but I will call it unhealthy and undesirable.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
In the news...
[CNN] Maine Gov. Paul LePage ordered a 36-foot mural depicting the state's labor history be removed from the lobby of the Department of Labor headquarters building in Augusta, Maine, according to LePage's office...
The 11-panel mural depicts labor scenes including a cobbler and a textile worker, and pro-labor organizations have used the action to criticize the governor.
A statement from the Maine AFL-CIO said removing the mural is an "insult to working men and women" and is another example of how LePage is putting politics before people.
And, from Politico.com...
LePage’s push to remove the mural came after “several messages” from members of the public complained about it, as well as an anonymous fax last month from someone who said the artwork was reminiscent of “communist North Korea where they use these murals to brainwash the masses.” And it comes as several governors and legislatures around the country are engaged in debates over the power and privileges of labor unions.
And so, the governor has decided that THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR is an inappropriate place for artwork depicting the HISTORY OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT? Really??
And this, after complaints that artwork depicting Labor history is too much like the Communists of N Korea?!!?
I repeat: sigh.
Or maybe Aaaarrrrggh! would be more appropriate.
When wilt thou save the people?
O God of mercy, when?
The people, Lord, the people,
Not thrones and crowns, but men!
Flowers of thy heart, O God, are they;
let them not pass like weeds away
Their heritage a sunless day
God save the people
Shall crime bring crime forever,
Strength aiding still the strong?
Is it thy will, O Father,
that men shall toil for wrong?
No, say thy mountains; No, say thy skies;
man's clouded sun shall brightly rise,
and songs be heard, instead of sighs,
God save the people!
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
In a previous post with a rolling set of interesting commentary following it, the question of storytelling arose. I hold storytelling in high value and think that the stories told in the Bible are tremendous sources of truth and ought to be taken as truths to contend with. However, that is not to say that I consider all the stories therein to be likely strictly fact-based.
As far as I know, most early storytelling falls into the "storytelling for the purpose of passing on truths, or for entertainment, or for moral lessons" category - as opposed to storytelling with an emphasis on telling strictly factual, linear history of a more modern sort. That sort of fairly strictly factual history-telling didn't really start happening until somewhere around 500 BC - 500 AD.
As far as I can tell. I'm not an expert, I just know what I've read and what makes sense. Can I do some research and discover "proof" that, of ALL the stories ever told in our earliest history, none were told in a factual, linear sort of way? No, of course not. One can't prove a negative. And so, I can't say it didn't happen and I'm not saying that.
Rather, what I'm saying is simply that, I see no evidence of it. I have seen no early writings with an emphasis on linear factual storytelling in a more modern historic sense. If you google "ancient historians," you come up with names such as Herodotus (known as the "father of history"), Josephus, Tacitus, Thucydides and Sima Qian, among others. All of these folk lived in that 500 BC - 500 AD window. And even amongst these who are credited with beginning "history" as a category of writing, the emphasis on facts was not always apparently strict.
source, source, source
So, what does that say of our biblical history stories? Most of the Old Testament, after all, falls prior to this 500 BC start of more modernistic history-recording. Is that to say that these stories are "false" and therefore unreliable?
I say, No. I say that early peoples told valuable stories and kept their history, they just didn't do it in the way we do it today. To suggest that early history-storytellers who might include some fiction right alongside some fact are "liars" or that lessons learned from these stories are compromised simply because they told history-stories in the style of their day is not to denigrate those lessons or those stories. It's just that we need to keep in mind the context and read these history-stories accordingly.
And yet, in the aforementioned post, we found some commenters who DID seem to suggest that ancient history-storytellers who include fiction and fact side by side ARE liars. That the lessons learned in such stories ARE compromised or wholly invalid.
Comments made include...
"How does one find comfort is something that didn't happen?"
"Just because they were primitive doesn't mean they were stupid."
(I had pointed out that these were a "primitive" people, by Merriam Webster definition, meaning simply an earlier, pre-literate people with differing cultural/storytelling norms than we have - nothing in that was to suggest they were stupid, nonetheless, that was what one commenter appears to have gathered.)
I offered an example of my OWN storytelling (with some departures from the facts) from my own family and that was met by,
"I'm glad you have so little regard for factual accuracy. Great so you tell funny stories, is it somehow less valuable/funny to use the facts of the situation. Personally this is a weak analogy, the Israelites were not just telling some funny stories around the campfire, they were relating their national history."
better to not make inferences about the character of a real person from a fictional tale in the first place.
Given all this, I wonder if it's the case that some of these commenters just hold storytelling itself in contempt? Human history has a long and wonderful history of storytelling that is not wholly dependent upon facts. From one source speaking of native American storytelling traditions, we read...
In the time before The Change (European contact), the oral narrative was a "sacred" process and the soul of Indigenous People. Without a written language traditional culture and customs were handed down using the spoken word as the base. They provided social, cultural and historical contexts, and acted as a social cohesive for the entire tribe...
In other words, the oral narrative was a highly developed, sophisticated medium supported by ages old teachings and explanations that were based on fact, observation, oral claims and contracts (in front of witnesses), and a complex set of social and cultural customs for dealing with the sacred and the supernatural.
Native people did not distinguish between the physical and supernatural because everything was viewed as a vast continuum; whether it be animate or supernatural, the world existed in 'real time' and in a conscious state of existence. Every living thing was a member of one large family: the four elements (earth, air, fire and water), plant, animal and human worlds were connected to each other in often complex and sophisticated ways. In other words, every object that existed in the physical world or sprang from the rich imaginations of the storytellers was in effect in possession of ‘real’ life and co-existed in perfect harmony with all other living beings - all were considered human...
Missionary damnations of Indigenous culture was as a result of refusal to acknowledge or understand the descriptive narrative base of Indigenous languages. Patriarchal Christian biases, coupled with attempts to translate the stories into a utilitarian language such as English caused a double jeopardy of linguistic confusion and misinterpretation. This distortion continues to exist, as colourful transformation figures such as Raven, Glooscap, Napi and Coyote were reduced to mere caricatures of buffoonery...
It was simply beyond the pale for the average missionary to contemplate them as akin to the level of Jesus Christ - that is a figure sent by Great Mystery to bring order to the world. Clutching rosaries and muttering homilies, Christian missionaries scuttled about, "Raven, Jesus, Coyote in the same sentence?" "I don't think so!" and so, the culture heroes were relegated to the only other place in Christian sensibilities, hell and Satan.
Indigenous narratives defy simple classification. 'Myth' seems to be a popular category, but it is incorrect. Myth, by definition means the stories are not real because they refer to fictitious themes that include imaginary persons or things that were spoken of as though they existed.
For the Ancestors, all beings whether they were physically real or from the visions of the Old Ones did exist, and in real time, albeit sometimes in an altered or supernatural state. The oral narrative also passed down important claims and entitlements - territory, crests, clans, names.
If labels are to be applied, 'Lore' is probably closer because it invokes a teaching, or the act of being taught by someone who has knowledge of a particular group or subject matter of a traditional nature...
I've read things of this nature before and believe it to be a common theme in ancient history-storytelling. The people told stories well, passed down histories accurately by their terms, and if ancient people had "fictional" talking Ravens in a story next to an actual person in the real world or a fictional dragon and an actual king, it was NOT because they were lying - these were real to them and their "factual" non-existence was irrelevant to the story.
Storytelling - regardless of rigid factuality - was of GREAT importance throughout history and still is today. The truths learned in these stories are not to be rejected and the authors reduced to "liars" simply because the storytelling style is different. It has been and still is a rich, beautiful, wonderful and powerful to convey great truths, deep personal connections and histories, even if every line is not factual.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I'm having a senior moment. I was looking through an old “poetry” folder on my computer and found an incomplete poem there I don't recognize. Now, generally, my poetry folder would be full of poems that I wrote. And all the other poem documents in that folder ARE my writings.
But this one, I don't remember or recognize, and it doesn't really sound like me (maybe a little bit – I DO like me some trebuchets...)
But, given the lovely weather here in Louisville today and that it's THAT time of the year, I will offer you an anonymous incomplete poem on a bicycle girl, grooving around the globe...
With the wind under her wheels,
She flew like a dog behind a cat
Like a penguin in a jet
Like a pumpkin recently on a trebuchet.
No time for gravity, sister astronaut
On a round-the-globe groove
Shakin’ sprockets and grease and...
...and that's it!
Anyone recognize that? I tried googling some excerpts and came up with nothing.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Friday, March 11, 2011
I'm going to go ahead and announce it: Spring is here!
It's been two weeks since I first spotted crocus spears piercing the cold winter ground.
This week, I've seen daffodils blooming.
I've seen two bald eagles circling in the sky above me.
I've seen two peregrine falcons hollering back and forth at each other.
I've heard two million bird songs.
And, although the sky was spitting snow yesterday, today, the sun was shining, grass was growing green anew, the bike couriers had an extra little oomph in their pedaling, my gardening friends have been buying seeds and I know that, even though winter isn't finished with us yet, Spring is here.
"He who hopes for spring with upturned eye never sees so small a thing as Draba. He who despairs of spring with downcast eye steps on it, unknowing. He who searches for spring with his knees in the mud finds it, in abundance."
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets...
Give to everyone who begs from you.
The blogger asked...
What did Jesus mean when He said "Blessed are the poor" if He didn't mean "You should all be poor and stop trying to help poor people because you're stealing their blessing"?
Are we supposed to aim to be poor, hungry, hated? And are we actually mandated by our Lord to give to everyone who asks of you without considering anything at all (like "Is this a con?" or "Would that be in their best interest?" or "Is there something better that I could do for them?")?
Or are we just supposed to take these things at cold, hard, face value, give up all our possessions, and aim for starvation -- you know, in order to be blessed?
And opened it up for conversation, which hasn't really happened much at his place, so I thought I'd bring it up here.
For my part, I take this fairly literally. I think when Jesus said, "blessed are you who are poor," he meant just that. I don't think he was encouraging us to BE poor necessarily, nor was he suggesting that we ought not HELP the poor (obviously, since he has taught that elsewhere). I think Jesus meant just what he said, "Blessed are the poor..." and "Woe to you who are rich."
Why? Why are the poor blessed in God's eyes? I suspect the point here is that God is with the poor, on the side of the poor, identifies with the poor in very real, very tangible ways.
Conversely, I think "woe to you who are rich" is there because, as the Bible teaches, wealth can be such a trap, such a stumbling block that it can lead to such grief.
I don't think it means that you can't BE rich and a Christian, just that wealth brings with it a certain amount of woe, of sorrow, of things that tend to trip us up.
I think Jesus meant just what he said but we ought be careful not to wrongly extrapolate beyond what he said. Obviously, taking the rest of Jesus' teachings into consideration, we ARE to help the poor, so we'd be wrong to refuse help to the poor because they are "blessed," that would be a wrong extrapolation.
Interpret scripture using scripture. Interpret the individual passage through the whole of scripture. Interpret through the lens of Jesus' teachings.
Doing this, I think we can safely assume Jesus meant just what he said here.
What do you think?
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
The heavens change every moment, and reflect their glory or gloom on the plains beneath.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson