Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pray [BLOG POST # 1,000!]

Praying Statue by paynehollow
Praying Statue, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
The following is an excerpt from an essay by a fellow from the Sikh faith tradition - Ishwar Singh - who is leading the GOP in a prayer today at the GOP National Convention. He said...

I am honored to be the first Sikh American in U.S. history to deliver the invocation at a national convention. On Wednesday, I will offer a prayer at the Republican National Convention from my Sikh faith.

The prayer calls upon the American public to join with us in recognition that we are one family. As an immigrant, a small-business owner and a father, I am humbled by the opportunity to address the nation. When I came to this country over 40 years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the honor of offering a prayer for the nation. My story is possible only in America.

My prayer will be an opportunity to share the spirit of the Sikh faith with the American people. The tenets of Sikhism – humility, equality, and justice – lie at the heart of the American ethic.

A truly wonderful sentiment. God bless him.

I have a question for my more conservative readers: Yes or no?

Should the GOP allow this fella to lead a prayer for the GOP? Do you have any problem with it, personally? Any reservations?

As a Christian, would you feel comfortable sitting in a room full of mostly other Christians, bowing your head and praying along with this guy? Are you comfortable in general with taking part in interfaith prayers?

Do you think that God does not hear this prayer, so it is a rather silly thing for him to do and for the GOP to allow? Or do you find this to be a good thing, a genuine prayer offered genuinely to the one true God? Or somewhere in between?

What are your thoughts? I have no agenda here, I'm just curious what your opinions are.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Bible and Economics

Angel by paynehollow
Angel, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
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 the Gospel of Mark, Chapters 3 - 6.

You can see others in this series in the "Bible and Economics" link below (on the left).

As I noted in the last time I posted on this series (from Mark 1 and 2), there seems to me to be an undercurrent of Mark speaking to economic issues in ways that may not be as overt as some of the more direct passages (ie, "Woe to you who are rich..."), but I think it's worth looking at and considering how these words would have been heard by its first century audience.

For your consideration...

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

~Mark 3: 1-6

This is part of a series of action-oriented stories of Jesus healing the poor sick folk around him and his first dealings with the religious authorities. Here we see, early in Jesus' ministry according to Mark, that the Pharisees were already plotting to kill him, and watching his every word, looking for some justification for prosecuting Jesus.

One question that arises, to me, is, Why are the pharisees so offended by Jesus' doing of good deeds? Why is his ministry to the poor and ill and his healing the sick so dangerous that they think they need to kill him? And not only that, but what was Jesus preaching and teaching that could unite groups (Pharisees and Herodians) who would normally be enemies?

Yet another point we see here is Jesus' use of questions to confront the religious authorities - questions that tend to go unanswered. "Is it WRONG to do good on the Sabbath?" Jesus asks them.

Well, obviously, of course it's always good to do good, even on the Sabbath. That's just common sense. But the religious authorities of Jesus' day (much like some religious authorities today) had much at stake in their claims of having the "right" interpretations of Scripture and Jesus' question called into question their interpretation (which said NO work could be done on the Sabbath - they held to a unreasonably literal interpretation of that ancient rule) and so, unable to answer the question rationally without pointing out the fallacy of their literal interpretation they chose to remain silent.

This (and Jesus' obvious anger at their hypocrisy) was calling into question their authority - both for the religious elite (the Pharisees) and the political elite (the Herodians) and that threatened them so much that they resorted to claims of heresy, of blasphemy - going so far as to call Jesus' work "of the devil" in the next chapter - and they felt they had to kill him to rid themselves of this threat to their power and beliefs.

But is there also an economic question here? Healing in Jesus' day (as it is today) was a money-making enterprise for most (Jesus, on the other hand, downplayed the healing aspect of what he was doing, repeatedly telling people NOT to spread the word of their healing at Jesus' hands and saying "YOUR faith has healed you..." rather than promoting his miracle-making chops).

I think a reasonable question to ask is: Whose bank account was Jesus cutting into by these healings? If we followed the money trail, would some of it wind up at the door of the Pharisees and Herodians?

I don't know, but it seems like a good question and at least a possibility.

Another economic angle here with the many healings we find in the first several chapters of Mark is that those who were sick were also more likely to be the poor, so this would certainly fit in with Jesus' proclamation that he had come to bring "Good news to the poor, Healing for the sick..." There are many stories of other healings in the first five chapters of Mark, but I'm going to jump on up to Mark 6, where Jesus sends out the Twelve to preach and heal...

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.

And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

~Mark 6:6-11

Here, we have the example of Jesus - the God who had no place to lay his head, who lived simply, sharing a communal life with his band of followers. And when Jesus sends them out to do a bit of preaching, he sends them out, likewise, with little/no money or resources, but to rely upon community kindness for their needs.

Interestingly, we can see this simple community in contrast with the extravagant political community of King Herod, in the rest of chapter 6. This was Herod Antipas, I'm told, who was a Jewish leader with deep ties to the Roman occupiers, the ones the Herodians were loyal to...

On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests.

The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you.” And he promised her with an oath, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom...”

~Mark 6: 21-23

You may remember that this is the story where John the Baptist goes on to lose his head, when the dancing daughter asks for that as her "prize..."

Quite a different "kingdom" from the one that Jesus showed by example and by teaching...


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Difficult Story of Hagar...

Praying Statue by paynehollow
Praying Statue, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.

...and the difficult stories of sexual exploitation/oppression.

We have a friend who is a minister in Morocco and she preached at our church two Sundays ago. I've excerpted bits of the sermon here, and you can read the whole thing at my church blog. In the sermon, she compares the difficult biblical story of Hagar (Abram's concubine/sex slave) and compares it with those who are forced into prostitution in Africa. It's a painful, challenging sermon if you're inclined to give it a try.

Hagar’s story is one of many poignant and painful stories of women in Hebrew scripture. It’s a tale in which we see how flawed our forebears in the faith could be (and believe me I'm grateful for that, because it reminds us how real they are). But the story is hard...

And though the Genesis story is ultimately redemptive, in Christian tradition Hagar’s legacy is tainted by Paul’s disparaging metaphorical use of her story in Galatians – we are children of the free woman and not children of the slave woman. Ugh. Why did he have to say that? The stigma of slavery sticks to her as if she were to blame for the injustice of her lot in life.

But Muslims don’t have that baggage. Hagar is a faith hero in Islam, even if, interestingly enough, her name, her story doesn’t show up in the Qur’an...

Hagar didn’t have to try to remember that she needed God. Hagar, as a female slave, was sexually (and every other way) exploited, a foreigner in the service of a nomadic family, themselves strangers in a strange land; she was the lowliest of the low. Muslim tradition says she was given to Sarah by Egypt’s pharaoh while Sarah was kept in his harem. Hagar lived completely at the mercy of those who possessed her; she had no one to turn to when she was in need or distress.

So when she can take Sarah’s harsh treatment no longer, Hagar reaches out to … no one; she simply runs away. It is the angel of the Lord who reaches out to her, who seeks Hagar and finds her beside a spring in the wilderness. There God’s angel calls her by name, encourages her, and blesses her...

Over the past nine months, I have met a lot of women who could be called Hagar. Though more often than not, they are called Blessing, Precious, Praise, Grace, Gift, Glory, Beauty, Esther. They are sub-Saharan African women, mostly Nigerian, whose experience resonates with that of Hagar.

While they are not officially slaves, they are all caught up in a human trafficking network that has forced them into prostitution (explicitly so or de facto) in Morocco...

And then we got up and danced and sang praises to God. Blessing (one of four women bearing that name) led us in a praise song that recalled how Jesus had walked with them through every trial. We sang verse after verse in Nigerian pidgin English with different hardships noted. Jesus walked with them they sang and they were right.

But bad things still happened to them. All the time. In the workshop, they made a banner representing their experience in Morocco; it is covered with human figures who are, let’s just say, explicitly anatomically correct and clearly male. Sexual exploitation is at the center of their existence. But, still, you can look at their faces when they sing and know it’s not everything. It’s not the whole of who they are...

And it's particular hard for us to let ourselves see people in need, obviously in trouble... We don’t want to see too much because we might understand too much, feel too connected, feel called to get involved and we are already doing so much. We might even be pushed to see more than we bargained for – connections between our lifestyles and their misery. And what do we do with that? What do we do with them? Do we squeeze our eyes shut and plug our ears?

Well, that’s not what God does. And as children of the Living, Hearing, Seeing God, we are called to begin, I believe, by opening our eyes and our ears...

I know you share with me this dream for these women who are indeed Blessed and Blessing in God’s sight, Precious, Graced, Gifted and Beautiful, their own names bearing witness to this truth. And it’s my prayer for us, for me and for all you who are here, that we, too, may know the deep, blessed truth of God’s seeing and hearing us and have eyes to see and ears to hear one another, to be part of that flow of blessing.

Now and forevermore. Amen.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hamba Nathi

At our church this last Sunday, our dear sister, Karen was in from Morocco and preached (and did an amazing, powerful job). She also taught us a new (for us) song: Hamba Nathi, Mkhululi wethu, which roughly translates from the Zulu, Come and join us, the journey is long. We sang the additonal verse, Share our burden and join in the song. A very Jeff Streetian song and one I'm sure we'll be singing again.

Thanks to Karen, Kevin and Claire for sharing so freely with us this week!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Know Your Poop

Doody by paynehollow
Doody, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
Pop Quiz Time!

Correctly identify the excrement shown above. Is it...

A.) a dog log
B.) cat scat
C.) a bird turd
D.) goose juice
E.) a duck puck


Choose the correct answer and put down your pencil when time is up.

Time's up.