Tag Archives: Yeshua

victim of oppression, feet in bondage

Victim of Oppression

The Victim of Oppression Has Few Choices

Here’s a popular quote, attributed to an unknown source, that comes across my Facebook far too often:

Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument or your age that is to blame. You and ONLY you are responsible for every decision and choice you make. Period.

There is a popular idea in the Christian and the New Age communities that there are no victims, only “bad choices” or challenges on one’s “life path.”In this magical thinking, there is no inequality or oppressive systems of hierarchy.

The Christian right occasionally talks about helping the poor, but they qualify it with a bunch of statements about how the “true” poor only live in developing nations. Somehow, in their twisted mind, there are no true poor in America because “all Americans have big screen televisions and cell phones” or some other nonsense.

I am not trying to downplay the poverty and horrors people face in other places, especially war-torn countries, but there are so many people suffering so greatly within American borders, too. There are many victims of oppression in America. Victims of racial barriers to employment and justice. Victims of generational or situational poverty created by oppression. Victims of the housing crisis, a bad economy and other faces of an American system oppressive to the poor.

Both the New Age and the Christian right are guilty of throwing around the loaded word, “choices,” saying there are no victims of oppression, only people who make bad choices. Or the worst, Christians proclaiming that people are lazy and have a “victim mentality.” Somehow I do not find this anywhere in the Bible. This is blasphemy, and I never use that term lightly.

Look again at the quote. “You and only you are responsible… ” As if we all live in an individual bubble of equality. Think about the meaning of “choices.” Consider the “victim mentality” insinuated in this quote. It is an ignorant statement spoken from a position of power and privilege.

If you are fortunate in this society, if you have Money, the right connections, the right skin color, a nice upbringing, good health, and other privileges, then you have many choices, a plethora of decisions big and small. But if you find yourself at the bottom of society’s hierarchy, through birth or through tragedy, your choices become ever more narrow.

The Choices of Power versus the Choices of Oppression

Consider these sort of choices:

Choice of privilege: Should I take this meaningful, enjoyable job, or the other offer that pays better? Or do I have enough savings to start my own business?

Victim of oppression: Can I find any work to keep my electricity on for another month?

Choice of privilege: Can I get a good rate on a mortgage in the suburbs, or should I keep paying rent on my luxury apartment in the city?

Victim of oppression: Should I go home to my abusive husband or should I spend another night in the homeless shelter?

Choice of privilege: Should I enroll my child in this desirable school district or would private school help more in college admissions?

Victim of oppression: Should I send my child to school today? Will she get bullied or shot? Will his teacher even believe in him, try to prepare him for college?

Choice of privilege: The budget is tight. Should I give up cable or consider a more limited cell phone plan?

Victim of oppression: The budget is tight. Should I give up this week’s groceries or should I risk being late on the rent? Again?

In the heartbreaking choices above, I see people who are victims. I see people who have been victimized by a bad job market, by abusive spouses or parents, by a terribly unequal housing and school system, by a lack of living wages, and by many other situations. Per the quote above, yes even the weather can create victims when hurricanes, tornadoes, storms, and fires destroy people’s homes and jobs.

Jesus Loved the Victim of Oppression

Jesus never once spoke of a “victim mentality” or “choices” leading to poverty and oppression. But he had much to say about helping the poor and the weak, about the Father looking on these victims as precious sons and daughters in his kingdom.

Jesus opened his Sermon on the Mount by saying, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) People argue that poor in spirit doesn’t mean physically poor, but the Greek here can be translated “reduced to a beggar” (Biblical Hermaneutics). Jesus hung out with “sinners” and prostitutes, the victims of oppression in his society. He loved them and never blamed them for “choices.”

As a society, we must wake up and show compassion to all the victims. Stop oppressing and blaming and making foolish statements about choices.

Start loving. This is the cross of Jesus. This is the way of holy justice.

hands grasping for hierarchy against kingdom living

Kingdom Living Has No Human Hierarchy

American society is infatuated with hierarchy. We idolize those at the top of the corporate, entertainment, and sports arenas. We disdain, even harm, the lowly and oppressed, the “nobodies.”

Our cliches are filled with hierarchy. “Climb the corporate ladder.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”

But is God’s heart in this “rat race?”

Sigh.

I hear these kind of platitudes all the time in the church. Christians just tend to qualify it as “prosperity” or “God’s blessing.” American living at its finest. Kingdom living at its worst.

America is a Land of Hierarchy

The American education system is a major contributor to hierarchies. I read an article recently about the equalizing pull of cheap or free online education to the brick-and-mortar, traditional university (“Creative Destruction” The Economist).

In the  article comments, one person argued that the physical university will remain as a place for the children of the elite to meet each other, a place to further their connections to Money. This person also claimed that egalitarianism was unheard of in society until the 20th century, and the growing economic inequalities of the 21st century are merely a return to the normality of the ruling elite. This person claims that the “land of equality” was always a myth.

This article was published in The Economist, a politically conservative magazine. Apparently this commenter has never read a Bible. Throughout the Old Testament, God frowned on the ruling elite and economic inequality.

God is the King of Kingdom Living

Through Samuel (1 Samuel 8), God bemoaned Israels desire for a king. God said Israel had turned away from him and all his miracles in bringing them out of Egypt. He longed to be their king, completely just and righteous. He knew the corruption that power brings to the human heart, and he warned Israel of the oppression they would face under a human king and a hierarchy. But, through heavenly tears, he gave them their free will.

Some may argue that God ordained kingship through the Davidic line. We must remember, though, that He chose David from the peasantry to overthrow the ruling elite, Saul. Clearly, God did not believe in rule by birth. God always judges by the heart, not by elite status of human hierarchy.

Fast forward to the New Testament, and we find  that Jesus’ life and teachings center around the idea of kingdom living with God as king. Although Jesus had every right to claim kingship over Israel, indeed kingship over the whole earth, he lived a simple servant life with nowhere to even lay his head. Through his parables and his sermon on the mount, he lifted up the meek and humble. Jesus blessed the poor who had been thrown to the trash dump by the world’s hierarchies.

Jesus Teaches Us the Way of the Servant

One day, the disciples began to argue about who was the greatest. I hear this same tired bickering around me all day every day, especially in ego-driven, appearance-adoring, hierarchical American culture. In response, Jesus said something profound:

Mark 9:35 (NIV)
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Read that again. The first to enter the kingdom of heaven will be the servants of this world.

I don’t see many people practicing this around me, least of all those who call themselves Christians, “followers of Jesus.” They claim to “serve” Jesus by showing up to church on Sunday, or singing some song with a rock-star worship band. Meanwhile, they prevent their homeless brother from entering the sanctuary, they renounce their sister who is a poverty-stricken single mom, they rage against their gay brother looking for love. They create human hierarchies in the very church that should be practicing kingdom living.

Hierarchies of hatred. The antithesis of kingdom living.

Jesus sees and loves these precious ones that the church rejects. Take another look at his words in the parable of the sheep and goats recorded in Matthew 25 (NIV):

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

The poor and oppressed shall stand in judgment. There is no place in the heavenly kingdom for those who set themselves up as the ruling elite on earth.

There are no hierarchies in kingdom living.

the rich man has no name

The Rich Man Has No Name

As I consider the story of Lazarus and the rich man, I am struck by one thing. Yeshua never called the rich man by name. The poor man is named Lazarus. The rich man has no name.

The Rich Man and the Skeleton Houses

I was riding the bus today through Lake Oswego, an opulent, wealthy suburb of Portland. I saw all the “castles” which people build for themselves and I thought, “What is it really all for? I’m sure not impressed.”

In the midst of my thoughts, I passed by a house under new construction. It was gigantic, sprawling, imposing, and… a skeleton. Just a mere skeleton of wood and concrete. Wooden beams stretching to the sky, wooden beams dividing rooms, wooden beams shaping a staircase and a floor. It was not at all impressive. I suppose people will ooh and ahh once the carpet goes in, the windows are filled with glass, the walls are painted a trendy color, and the outside is decorated with expensive stonework.

This house made me think. Who owns the trees which were killed and cut down to make beams for this skeleton? Did anyone ask the trees if they wanted to give their life to become a house? And if so, did they want to become mere property of another rich person? And how did that person come to own that piece of land? Didn’t YHWH intend the land to be shared by all of his creation? Did YHWH ever say one person should get a castle while another person sleeps on a concrete slab under a bridge?

A Bible Story About the Rich Man

Luke 16:19-24 (NIV)

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

As I consider the story of Lazarus and the rich man, I am struck by one thing.

Nowhere did Yeshua ever gave the rich man a name.

The poor man has a name, Lazarus. But the rich man has no name. Was this accidental? Perhaps Yeshua just drew a blank at that moment. I doubt it. I think Yeshua was making a point. In this world, the rich reduce the poor to a mere number, a nameless face in the “rabble” on the street, a piece of refuse they pass by on the sidewalk which messes up their day for awhile.

The rich man buys all the land, leaving nowhere for the poor man to build his house. The rich man builds a castle and takes all the wood for himself, emptying the forests so the poor man has nothing left to build his house. The rich man heats that castle, taking all the energy for himself and driving utility costs so high that the poor man is forced to shiver in the cold.

The Poor Man Has a Name in Heaven

YHWH sees all this. It happens every minute of every day on earth. YHWH knows that poor man. The poor man cries out day and night for justice. YHWH comforts that poor man, adopts him as a son, invites him to His home in heaven, and gives him a name.

YHWH does not know the rich man. The rich man never has time or need to call out to YHWH. The rich man is proud, and he runs the worldly justice system for his own gain. YHWH judges the rich man in the heavenly justice system, and finding him wanting throws him into hell. The rich man is no adopted son of YHWH, and the rich man has no name.

churches help homeless families

Churches Help Homeless Families

Churches help homeless families. A few churches in Portland, Oregon have answered the call to give a small amount of money toward the big needs of families suffering homelessness this winter. Will more churches answer the call, or are they too focused on prosperity and pretty trimmings?

JOIN: New City Initiative for the Homeless

There is a nonprofit group called JOIN in Portland, Oregon. They have put together the New City Initiative as a way to gently push churches to help homeless families among the overwhelming homeless population in Portland. They are asking for 10 churches to give $2400, $800 a month for three months, to help house 10 families for three months while they get on their feet. The organization is also asking that these churches provide a few volunteers to visit with the homeless families. If $800 is too much to ask, then the organization suggests that several churches band together to support one family. Furthermore, this is not an ongoing commitment. It is only a one-time thing. Easy peasy. Read more with this Oregonian article Expanding capacity to help homeless.

This is a great idea. Sometimes churches use the excuse that there are too many needs around them, too much money, too much time required to get involved. This initiative breaks it down into bite-sized pieces. The only problem?

Only three organizations have stepped up- Saint Andre Bessette Catholic Church, the First Congregational United Church of Christ, and the Islamic Social Services of Oregon State. Kudos to these organizations.

What Other Churches Help Homeless Families?

Where is everyone else? Where are the Protestant churches? Where are the area mega-churches who are certainly bringing in a lot of revenue? The Charismatic church claims to hear God personally. Well, is anyone hearing Yahweh’s heart right now?

They complain that their giving is down in this economic climate. They say that their members have no time to volunteer. Well, what exactly are these members then doing with all their unemployed time that they claim as the source of their paltry giving? Also, many pastors are living comfortably with $60,000, $70,000, or even 6-figure salaries. Where is this money coming from? Can these pastors give up just a paltry $2400 for one year, even if it came from their salary?

What Would Jesus Do?

Yeshua never gave such complaints. He didn’t just financially support one poor family and help them move into their new home for three months. He lived right with the homeless. He preached, but he never took a salary, especially a six-figure one. He said, “The son of man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). He befriended the poor, healed their ailments, and fought their cause. Why does the church not do the same? They talk about it, but they rarely put their money with their mouth is.

I visited several (Protestant) churches in the Portland area recently. They all had coffee and pastries before service, shiny brochures for visitors, state-of-the art sound systems and instruments, computers and flat-screen televisions for their Power Point sermons. One church met at a middle school; the rest all had big, beautifully decorated buildings. One church even gave us coffee mugs just for visiting. Nice, big, gleaming white coffee mugs.

This same church says that it wants to be a hope for the poor. Yet, it does not give money to the poor. Only prayer. Maybe this church could buy a few less mugs and brochures and online advertisements, and put just $800 into really helping the poor.

Or maybe I live in a dream world. Maybe Yeshua would have used coffee mugs and sound systems if he lived today. Maybe that’s the way to take care of people’s needs. A safe, warm place to live is not really that important, is it? Those people can at least be safe and warm once a week in the big, beautiful church building. In today’s model, Yeshua would have been sure to pray for them after service and send them back to the streets. He would say they had an “entitlement attitude” anyway, and that they should just fix their own life. God helps those who help themselves, after all (well, that’s not in the Bible, maybe they forgot to put it in).

Or would he? Is Yeshua the leader of churches helping their own prosperity roll calls, or is he the leader of the churches helping homeless families?