Wednesday, April 12, 2006

my dad and i talk about poverty and jesus

From Dad, re: my first post on Social Creeds, below -

I read your blog, you know. (LOL) What is biblical? Not daddy’s interpretation, rather the bible’s:
only that which is inspired by God written by those Apostles that wrote by means of the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit which is commanded for only Christians to follow.

(Just one way to put it)

Nowhere in the bible does Jesus command His followers to care for the poor of the world. As a matter of fact he says, "The poor you will always have with you." This does not imply that we ought not assist in feeding others and making their lives easier. Remember Helps Ministry day? That was my way of doing that. And, hey, it worked. The poor showed up every month and never got the spiritual lesson to help thyself!

Keep on thinking but never forget the value of remembering that which worked.

My reply to Dad, re: poverty –

i know you read my blog, dad!

and i know what you mean by biblical - that's not what i meant.

this is what i meant: you can argue that jesus does call for caring for the poor in his instructions to the young man to sell his goods and follow him, in his beatitudes that teach that the least shall be first and, at least in the parable of the banquet. now, is that the most important lesson? no - clearly, in his rebuke of the disciples (when they wanted the woman to sell her oil and give the money to the poor instead of washing christ's feet) he's rebuking them for not paying attention to the heavenly goals of his ministry - they're focusing on the wrong thing!

but the bible also calls us to be our brother's keeper, doesn't it? it exhorts us to exercise humility in the face of greater need and to be as christ was - a servant. if christ is humble enough to wash the feet of his disciples isn't there a moral lesson in this as well for us to wash our brother's feet? throughout his ministry he urges charity and compassion - as well as the spiritual lesson. there are more instances of jesus chastising an overwhelming dependence on material gain than the opposite.

and is 'help thyself' a spiritual lesson or a cultural lesson? really? i must have missed that in bible school, dad! if the argument can be made that christ didn't advocate for the poor the same argument can be made that he wasn't all about rampant individualism and self-sufficiency, either! everything about the bible says the exact opposite of self-reliance: we are to call on Him, we are to rest our thoughts and beliefs outside of our selves, relying totally on christ outside of our selves. we are, basically, to forsake mother, father, family, country and all for HIM. that's not self-reliance - that's ultimate dependence.

but peter also calls for us to display, among other things, brotherly kindness: "For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins."

so, you're right: the exact words "Take care of the poor" don't appear in the bible. But that doesn't mean that we ought not to.

(the words "go to college, move out of your parent's house, get an education and become a productive member of society" aren't in the bible, either.
but that doesn't mean that it's not a good idea.)

Love and all that,

Other words and ideas that aren't mentioned in the bible but pose no huge biblical conflict because, heck, it's just a good idea:
health care, insurance, literacy, 401k, democracy, trial by jury, freedom of speech, public education, housing for the homeless, pasteurization for milk, airplanes, vaccinations, vacation time, anti-child labor laws

Dad’s reply to me –

Hey Girl of mine!

I got your point. I agree wholeheartedly. My thing is that, overall, the most important aspect of one's faith is being obedient to Christ first and foremost. I would never advocate forgetting the poor - those that have a greater need than me. You are correct; but to use the bible and the words of Jesus as a justification for social advocacy to me is pressing the button a little too firm. True; it is not about taking care of your business as it is advocating His which is clearly detailed in the scriptures. The text of 1st John 3:17 the Apostle writes: "But whosoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" You are so correct. I know that the text is there; this was one of the primary ideas of the Christ. That is why I, too, can take communion.

My shabby life of material things is in no way a justification for me to be full and see any human being in need. I send money on a regular basis to the "Voice of the Martyrs," an agency that sends food and clothing to those Christians in Islamic countries that are being killed on a regular basis. My heart goes out to my brothers and sisters in foreign lands. I would also give the same to other needy people. I really do not have the resources to do that. Your church ministry is helping on a big scale and for that reason I praise God for your ministry.

It is not an issue of liberal vs. conservative. The greater issue is, as you would put it, Do we feel the pain of those who have nothing compared to the haves who are taking all that they can without regard of the feelings of others? This, I'm in agreement with you, is indeed a sin. You are my daughter. I do read you well. Know that I think that we are saying the same thing; but just a little differently. Good; so you do know what I mean as biblical. You see; I place that as the highest priority in that each of us will be allowed to enter in into the life to come on that basis alone.

Oh (LOL), one more thing. That one cannot perceive that the miracles of the scriptures could have taken place in no way verifies that they did not. It takes great faith to take, at first glance, all that you see in the text. I heard one guy say recently on TV that the miracles of the fishes and loaves was merely Christ taking a lunch bag of one young man and passing it around to over 5,000 people and they received the lesson about living for others so they took their own hidden lunches from their own waistbands and, since they learned the lessons of Christ, returned the lunch and then added their own. Justifying the myth of the miracle? Totally unlikely in that environment. Why, simply put, without the Holy Spirit dwelling in the sinful hearts of fallen man, ain't nobody gonna be that loving towards others - even in the presence of Christ. All of the miracles took place. I think that men make up excuses for things that they just find hard to believe.

Just my two cents; wow, look how much I've written. I must love my baby!

my father is vastly more conservative than i am in his theology and, yet, he fails to make me insane. i like talking with my preacher dad about christianity. (i mean, ok, he thinks the UN is a vast conspiracy ushering in the antichrist, but whatever.)
the point is that somewhere between Anonymous calling a desire for fairness Marxist/Socialist and me saying that an important aspect of christianity is about looking out for the less able, there has to be somewhere in between, where we can come together.


john patrick said...

Jesus does call us to poverty, right? A call that is challenging, even heatbreaking for the rich man.

Someone once told me to look at poverty as the opposite of materialism. That, I can handle.

john patrick said...

Sorry, this post has been making me crazy all week.

Jesus doesn't say "help the poor," but He does tell us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned. Well, ok, He doesn't so much tell us to do those things, rather that if we don't, we'll burn in a fiery gehenna.

And when Jesus says "the poor will always be with us," when I read it, it says that there will be plenty of time to help the poor later; implying a) that we are supposed to help the poor and b) that by that time, they already had an ethic of helping the poor.

If "the poor will always be with us," means "don't help the poor," then that conversation was uncharacteristically creepy:

--you know, for the price of that oil, we could have bought a lot of potatoes for the soup kitchen.
--the poor will always be with us, don't encourage them.
--right! (note to self: don't help the poor around Jesus).

I'll just apologize now for my snarkiness. After Italian class tonight I walked over to the chapel and caught the end of the Holy Thursday service.

After the service was over, I sat in front of the Sacrament and thought about Gesthemone, and did that thing the Jesuits always tell us to do--to mentally insert yourself into the Gospel.

So I was sitting in Gesthemene, and the Lord seemed awfully worried, but for goodness sakes, I'm not a teenager anymore, and I'm freezing out here in the middle of the night while my cult leader is sweating bullets. I am too old for this.

And when the Judas came back with Temple guards, I totally hid in the bushes. And I ran back to my sister's house and told her to hide me. And I cowered. I was most interested in getting away from Peter, because everyone knows that Peter's the stupid one.

Holy Thursday, Batman!

ding said...

jp, i totally love you.
but it's after 2 am and i'll respond to this tomorrow.

but i went to Maundy Thursday service tonight and cried my ass off. it was really moving. like, viscerally moving.

(reading back through jesus' conversations? yeah, they were creepy. illuminating, but you can't deny the creepiness.)

Cygnet said...

ding, I'm really glad that you posted this. I thought that I was the only person who, in love, because exacerbated by trying to discuss theology with their fathers.

My dad says, "Yes, I agree that we are to help the poor, but why would we give the money to the government to do it? Shouldn't we be organizing church directed health insurance and welfare?" At which point I say, "Sure, it's worth a shot. You are an elder. Let's just see what happens when you suggest that at the next meeting as an alternative to sending the kids on a short ter missions trip, buying new video projectors, or getting handbells."

I'm glad that you too can "discuss" such things with your father without it tearing you apart.

Molly Malone said...

I'll add to the chorus: I'm glad you have these kind of conversations with your dad on a civil level. The tone your father takes with you evidences that he has a great love and respect for you, if not an agreement.

Something I think I agree with your father on is the idea that it's sort of vulgar to use Jesus as a social platform. While for sure my own views on most social issues have been shaped by my personal religious experience, using Christ as the logo is iffy. Look at the religious right. While the American Family Association doesn't have "jesus" in the title, we don't have to look to far to see that they're using Christ as some bumpersticker. I guess that just goes to the idea that any invocation or recall of the name of Christ must be done with utmost care and respect. None of us ever do take that care, though.

Naturally I totally agree with your P.O.V., btw. Good arguing!

ding said...

my dad and i got to this point only through the crucible of two bush administrations - it's an effort.

when i think about jesus, and like jp i've been doing a lot of thinking this week (because it's Holy Week, probably), i've been thinking that the nature of jesus is so ineffable that the use of him to support every progressive social ideal is probably a bit, uh, hasty.

jesus, though holy, was weird. following jp's example i think about what it would be like to be around jesus every day, listening to his parables, his strange entanglements with the pharisees, trying to figure out the right answers to his abruptly megalomaniacal questions (who do people say that i am? huh? come on, tell me, what's the word on the street??). i'd be like peter - what the frack is going on??

so i think you're right. jesus isn't 'normal.' to use him as a bumber sticker for any social cause (progressive/conservative) is probably a misreading of his character.

but that still won't stop me from believing in brotherly kindness, the words of the beatitudes, the imperative to be watchful of our country's overweaning authority and abuse.

LutheranChik said...

I think it's so great that you and your dad can have these kinds of conversations. My father and I were at both theological and political opposites, and we couldn't talk about Big Issues without it turning into A Yelling Thing.

Gary said...

interesting discussions - I recall a scripture describing "true" religion as the caring for orphans and Widows. In context those were the poorest of the poor. And contetually again, Christ ministered primarily to the non-rich - Today the modern Christian seems more concerned with esoterics and implications than reflecting the grace that "while we were yet sinners" was given to us who are truly poor in God's eyes. "What does the Lord require of you?" check out the answer and see if humbleness is not a position of recognizing our place in God's eternity. We don't give to the poor out of obligation or command - we give out of a state of mutuality in God's eyes.



ding said...

'the esoterics and implications' - what my dad calls doctrine. i often wonder what modern american christianity would look like if we just went back to the fundamentals - the sacraments and the greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Verlch said...

"This is an historic moment, I am hopeful the fighting will not go on for long. We have in the last year made great progress in ending the long era of conflict and cold war. We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future gen-erations A NEW WORLD ORDER where the rule of law governs the conduct of the NATIONS".--In 1991, at the beginning of the Gulf war, US President George Bush broadcast to the world.

"It is the sacred principles enshrined in the United Nations charter to which the American people will henceforth pledge their allegiance."President George Bush addressing the General Assembly of the U.N., February 1, 1992

These same "international" laws are taking a shot at marriage between a man and women, to ruin it.

I think your dad was right. Have you ladies/gentlemen taken a look at what is enshrirned at the Front Organization for the NWO, the UN?

I've looked at a few.