poverty

Membership is Not Cheap

The Third World is alive and well within North America. The poor are in the apartments with black mold; they are in the food stamp offices and being run out from under bridges. Difficulty and disease and shame mark their lives; they’re stigmatized like lepers. Jesus is among these people; living with them, encouraging them and doing miracles among them.

But you’d never know this by looking at the churches of North America.

A few churches cater to the upper class, but the massive majority of churches throughout North America see themselves as ministering to “communities”, by which they mean communities of the middle class. The poor are left out of the equation of the normal, everyday life of the church. And because of this, the church itself is poorer. Below are four areas in which the poor are marginalized in most modern churches:

1. Cultural uniqueness
The third world of North America is unique, and has unique features. For one thing, its inhabitants tend to use foul language, even the most religious of them. More poor people smoke than middle class people, and they are also more likely to have obvious addiction issues. Poor people tend to be less educated and focus more on survival. But, paradoxically, the poor are more likely to give their last dollar to someone else in need. Poor folks are more likely to rely on God instead of a system or even their own work. These are unique cultural characteristics, not right or wrong, just different. There are weaknesses and strengths in this culture, just as there are in the cultures of the middle or upper classes (or, indeed, in any culture).

The cultural uniqueness of being poor isn’t celebrated, but preached against in the everyday church. Not that every facet of poor culture should be celebrated; but the same is true of the middle and upper class cultures. When we praise the middle and upper class trait of making and following a reasonable budget, for example, why can we not also praise the lower class trait of sacrificial generosity? The church cannot be a culture-free environment, but in our middle-class model of church, where can the poor worship in a manner cohesive to their culture? (more…)

Anabaptists on Economics

Originally posted at Koinonia Revolution.

Schleitheim Congregational Order:

“Of all the brothers and sisters of this congregation, none shall have anything of his own, but rather, as the Christians in the time of the apostles held all in common, and especially stored up a common fund, from which aid can be given to the poor, according as each will have need, and as in the apostles’ time permit no brother to be in need.”

Andreas Ehrenpreis:

“They who would enter into life must come through love, the highest commandment; there is no other way through the narrow gate, Matt. 22:34-40; John 14:1-14. Hundreds of Scriptures and many witnesses make it very clear that whoever wishes to have the precious and hidden jewel must go and sell everything, yes, hand over everything they possess, Matt. 13:45-46; Acts 2:43-47. Different interpretations of these texts have been given because people want to keep what they have, but we cannot deny the work and power of the Holy Spirit, by which the apostles set a firm example in the first church in Jerusalem and three thousand were added, Acts 2; Acts 4:32-37.”

“Whoever claims to belong to Christ in love, but cannot give their possessions to the community for the sake of Christ and the poor, cannot deny that they love worldly goods, over which they have only been placed as caretakers for a time, more than Christ. Therefore Christ says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 5:3.” (more…)

Blessed Are the Poor

This post originally appeared on my blog, Koinonia Revolution.

I was reading a really interesting and really disappointing article about poverty and our perception of it yesterday. It does not say anything I did not already know, but it did get me thinking about something when I read this:

Prejudice against the poor increases during hard economic times, said John Dovidio, a Yale University psychology professor.

“Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you get more, and if you have less, you deserve less,” Dovidio said.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case, and you can just turn on one of the major news stations or a political talk show to see it. I personally see it even among members of my own family, which is funny because my family is not very prosperous to begin with. Our society has the assumption that everything is the result of an individual’s actions, which seems to be product of our emphasis on individualism to me. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy, not because you might be mentally ill, handicapped, born into poverty, or unemployed. And if you are rich, it is because you are a “job creator” who works hard. It literally saturates American culture and media. (more…)

Anabaptism and Liberation Theology

I am currently doing a final research paper for my English course, and I decided to write about Liberation Theology. In my paper, I am covering the main liberation theologies — Latin American and African American — and I am writing about some of the more contemporary developments of it. While doing my research on Liberation Theology, and while reading about the early Anabaptists, I felt the desire to write a small article for YAR on the subject.

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The Universe Loves You! (A publication of the Marginal Mennonite Tract & Propaganda Dept.)

The Universe Loves You! … & thinks you’re perfect just the way you are!

The christian church teaches the doctrine of original sin, that everyone is born with a sinful nature.

… We, on the other hand, believe in original goodness, that the spark of the divine resides in each and every human being. (Psalms 82:6, John 1:9)

The christian church portrays God as the heavenly father.

… We believe in God as mother, as well as father. (Isaiah 49:15)

The church says God’s justice will require him to damn most of his creatures to eternal punishment.

… We believe hell is a myth, and that every person who’s ever lived gets a seat at the celestial banquet table. (Isaiah 25:6)

The church claims Jesus was rejected by the Jews, and that his message superseded the “Old Testament.”

… We believe Jesus was a Jew in good standing until his dying day, and that everything he taught was firmly grounded in Torah.

(more…)

An In-Between Place

Last Friday, the city of Philadelphia handed out eviction notices to Occupy Philadelphia, notifying the residents that they had to leave by Sunday at 5pm, or they would be removed.

While, I haven’t been a part of this movement, I’ve been observing them from the edges.  And, when I heard about the eviction, I was anxious.  I saw the UC Davis footage, I read stories about violent evictions in other cities—I was worried about Occupy Philadelphia.

The Interfaith Clergy group called on Philadelphia pastors to go to City Hall on Sunday night, to stand as a witness and reminder that we are called to the way of peace.  So, my colleague and I headed downtown.

It was obvious that we were clergy—some people would walk by us, and thank us for coming, but mostly we were relegated to the edges of the event.  We were marginalized, and that was ok.  We were observers, not participants.

When the Eagles football game let out, we saw more movement around the Occupy Philadelphia encampment.  Disappointed sports fans were coming up from the subway, and streaming into the square.  Many were intoxicated.  A few were very angry with the Occupiers.

One group of young men concerned me right away.  I heard them making plans to pick a fight with the protestors, to get themselves on the news.  They were convinced that they would be hometown heroes.

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Occupy Wall Street: Interview with Eli Robert and Riley

Amtrak crosses the county carrying overnight passengers, strangers who engage each other as little or as much as they want. I overhear the social analysis of foreigners, business owners, union workers, environmentalists, activists and Amish. Wide seats, scenic cars, and café tables host a unique social atmosphere, literally a meeting in between places with a cross-section of the world.

Last night I returned from New York State via Amtrak, following a weekend of faith-based social justice fellowship with the Word and World mentoring program. I heard three young men relate their weekend experience of Occupy Wall Street in New York City. Computer speakers played Colbert’s speech at the White House Press Dinner. Elderly voices discussed political debates in Iowa, “Those politicians are all liars” … “Well that should not attract votes the way they argue.”

Tim spotted the chance for a window into the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement from its source in New York City. We invited the activists to the café car for an interview. Eli Fender (23), from Seattle joined the camp for two weeks. Robert Smith (20) and Riley O’Neil (20) both originally from Rogers Park in Chicago (small world) both visited the camp over the weekend.

Charletta: Tell us about the movement’s shape. What are some of the tools that are important at OWS?

Eli: There’s the people’s microphone, which a lot of people know about. There’s also working groups such as the facilitation working group who guides the General assembly. In democracy you worry about where power starts welling up. So I joined the facilitation group meeting.

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Mennonites on the Bowery

Photo of Weaverland Choir by CharlieK

There’s a building boom on the Bowery these days. It’s been happening for a while, but the last couple years have witnessed an escalation in development, turning the neighborhood into a hip destination point.

Fifty years ago the Bowery was the largest skid row in the world. There were gin joints and flophouses on every block. That’s all gone now, thanks to the forces of gentrification. In their place are condos, art galleries and upscale eateries. Only one skid-row relic remains: the Bowery Mission.

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the Mission’s pulpit in the 1960s, looking onto a sea of expectant faces while my father preached. In retrospect I realize the men behind those faces were awaiting the sermon’s conclusion so they could get their grub. (more…)

Active, Effective Theology: A Response to J. Denny Weaver

Recently, J. Denny Weaver spoke of his conversion from “passive” non-resistance and two-kingdom theology to an active stance against evil (reflection: can Mennonites use the term “evil”?) in Wisconsin. http://www.themennonite.org/issues/14-4/articles/Protesting_and_the_reign_of_God
While I approve of his stand, I must disagree with the theological conclusions of his article.

In speaking of two kingdom theology, Professor Weaver emphasizes the passive inaction of the theology. That it has nothing to say to oppression, that God is the God who empowers violence and the non-resistant have nothing to respond to injustice. Perhaps this is the form of two-kingdom theology that Professor Weaver learned, and I can see with a title like “non-resistance”, a theology might be prone to inaction. Certainly passivity is a concern among many who are raised “non-resistant”.

But two-kingdom theology is not about passivity. Certainly there is a passive aspect to it, even as Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would be fighting.” So there are actions that those of Jesus’ kingdom do not take. However, the foundational law of the kingdom of Jesus is active: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love isn’t passive, but active. Like the Samaritan in Jesus story, the one of Jesus’ kingdom cannot look at one hurt in the gutter and not act. (more…)

Now I Understand

This last year our church determined that we would open to shelter the local homeless each time the weather went below freezing, but the city wouldn’t permit other churches to open up. We live in a fairly temperate climate, but the winter was cold, and most homeless weren’t prepared for it. After opening more than 15 nights, the city shut us down. Here is my reaction to my conversation with the city. If you are interested in our church and what our focus is, please check us out at www.NowhereToLayHisHead.org

I had a mysterious conversation with the emergency services manager of Gresham and the fire marshal a couple weeks ago. I was talking to them about the need of people sleeping on the street and how much danger they are in, especially when it gets below freezing. I spoke of Fred, whose leg was cut off a couple months ago because he had slept outside in freezing conditions. I spoke of the sixteen year old girls who have been sleeping outside all winter. And about a father and his sixteen year old pregant daughter who found themselves desperate without shelter.

And the response I recieved from them is a lot of fire codes, and how we can’t open because we don’t have 200 square feet per person and how it is acceptable to have a standard of only opening churches when it gets below 22 degrees. And they told me, “This is not a social problem,” and they said, “This is not an emergency,” and they said, “You should just let other people deal with this.” This was a foreign language to me, so I spoke of fire code with them, because it seemed to be the only language we could both understand. (more…)

How would you translate Menno’s TEF?

As part of the conversation that often occurred in response to Mennonites in Northern Ghana, who were asking me “what does it mean to be Mennonite?” I would quote a snippet from Menno’s document. (I mean, only sometimes, when they asked specifically about Simons, because “church founders” are a BIG deal there). But the language was such that I always found myself changing the words. These folks loved Jesus, and they weren’t necessarily asking me about what Jesus had to say about discipleship and prayer, but they wanted to know what Menno had to say. They had only relative familiarity with British English and most are distanced from the written word. I wonder if I translated the following accurately? I wonder if it matters? How would you translate/summarize this part of Menno Simon’s Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing (1539)

“True evangelical faith is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant, but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it dies unto the flesh and blood; it destroys all forbidden lusts and desires; it seeks and serves and fears God; (more…)

What Does It Mean To Be Anabaptist?

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I’ve got some new friends who had never heard of anabaptism. So I wrote a summary of what I understand Anabaptism to be. Look it over. What would you add or subtract? What would you nuance differently?

And if you aren’t anabaptist, what questions would you have?

The Anabaptist tradition
In 1525 the reformation of the church in the West was just beginning. There was a lot of excitement about Luther’s reforms, not least of all in Zurich, Switzerland. Zwingli was leading the city leaders into a reform there based on Scripture alone, but many of the reformation’s supporters there didn’t think that Zwingli was going far enough. They noticed that when he spoke about certain issues, that he was more interested in his theological point, rather than actually brining the church back into obedience to Jesus. So they baptized themselves in the name of Jesus, making each other citizens of Jesus’ kingdom instead of any kingdom on earth. This movement grew, and they were called ana-baptists by their enemies, because it was claimed that they would re-baptize their members. But in reality, the Anabaptists affirmed that they were spreading the one true baptism—an entrance into God’s kingdom through true understanding and not just assent to the society of the church. This movement has continued to this day.

What Anabaptists Believe:
1. Jesus only
“No one knows the Father except the Son”
Anabaptists hold to no theology except that stated by Jesus himself. Even as Jesus supersedes the Old Testament law, Jesus also rules over all theology that the church itself created, whether that by Paul or by Calvin or by N.T. Wright. And the focus of our belief is not a Jesus we create—such as a glorified, theological Jesus or a model of a historical Jesus or a cultural Jesus—but the Jesus of the gospels. Thus, the four gospels lead us to interpret all things through the words and life of Jesus.
Since Anabaptists affirm the superiority of Jesus, we also recognize the weakness of all things human to achieve truth or justice. Thus, any particular denomination or creed is only in a process of getting closer to or further from Jesus, but no church could ever be complete in and of itself. Various governments may attempt to achieve justice, but they all fail. Schools attempt to teach truth, but no matter how precise they are, they fail to achieve the full truth that Jesus gives us. (more…)

Jesus Radicals! Anarchism and Christianity

New Heaven, New Earth: Anarchism and Christianity Beyond Empire
August 14 & 15, 2009

Location
Caritas Village
2509 Harvard Avenue,
Memphis, TN 38112

This year’s anarchism and Christianity conference, hosted by Jesus Radicals, will look squarely at the economic and ecological crisis facing the globe, and point to signs of hope for creativity, for alternative living, for radical sharing, for faithfulness, for a new way of being. We are living in a karios moment that will either break us or compel us to finally strive for a new, sane way of life. The question we face at this pivotal time is not if our empires will fall apart, but when they will fall–and how will we face it? We hope you will join the conversation. (more…)

Top Ten Acts of Oppression

Just a brief Bible study to cleanse my mind of the combination of verses and images from Rumsfield that TimN posted:

All references are from the ancient Hebrew prophets:

1. Refusing to defend the needy- Isaiah 1:17, 23; Jeremiah 5:28
2. Stealing from the poor- Isaiah 3:14-15
3. Unjust judgments against the poor- Isaiah 10:1-2
4. Not assisting the needy- Ezekiel 16:49
5. Taking interest for loans- Ezekiel 18:15-17
6. Enslaving a people- Amos 1:6
7. Excessive violence in war, especially against innocents- Amos 1:13
8. Excessive rent against the poor- Amos 5:11
9. Accepting bribes- Amos 5:12
10. Turning away those who need shelter for a night- Amos 5:12

We boldly decry #s 6 and 9. But when will we see that the basis for the current economic crisis is #s 4, 5, 8 and 10?

Some Thoughts About Reforming the Church

This is in response to a discussion on “A Platform for MCUSA”. http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/2009/04/09/a-platform-for-mcusa/
I got to thinking about something there and it got so long, I decided to post it seperately.

I suppose pretty much everyone on this forum is interested in reforming the church. Perhaps we don’t all agree at exactly what this reform looks like, but we agree that it must be done. There is a lot of talk here, but little action. It is time to make some changes. (more…)