Listening for a Silent God

 For a while, I have been listening with interest to the claims by some that God made Donald Trump president of the United States. (https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/02/01/sarah-sanders-god-wanted-trump-to-be-president-peter-guthrie)

This week, Mark Lindell, the  “My Pillow” guy, repeated the claim at the CPAC event. (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2019/mar/1/mike-lindell-my-pillow-founder-says-donald-trump-w/)

The claims make me shudder.

The God that I was taught was not a God who approved of hatred and bigotry; my Sunday School God was one who demanded that we love God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our souls – and our neighbors as ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-34) My Sunday School God said I had to love the white people who were hosing little kids in Birmingham and church deacons who were lynching black people just because they could – lynching them for things like registering people to vote, for example.

My Sunday School God said I had to forgive any and everyone who offended me. No doubt it was that Sunday School God who empowered the survivors of the mass shooting by Dylann Roof of people attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Church to say they forgave him.

My Sunday School God wanted all people to be free; my Sunday School God supported liberation and dignity and justice for all humans – and my Sunday School God had no favorites. It would have seemed preposterous for the God who created everything and everyone to hate everything He/She created.

So, I have long been puzzled by the God of white people who seems to support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms.” I have long been troubled that my Sunday School God seemed cut out of the story by some white people, who saw nothing wrong with lynching someone on a Saturday night and going to church on Sunday morning.

I have been puzzled by the silence of my Sunday School God who has allowed so many people to suffer from the oppression – economic, social, cultural, emotional and psychological – levied on some people by another group of people who have decided that they are better than everyone else.

If God put Donald Trump in office, what does that say about who God is, ultimately?

This man and his administration are waging war against the concepts of “liberty and justice for all.” They are practicing selective immigration, calling people of color by horrific names and being willing to spend literally billions of dollars for a border wall on the US southern border, while leaving the northern border virtually alone. It is not a new thing; white people in this country have sought to control the number of people of color coming into this country for hundreds of years, but by virtue of being alive, I am experiencing this latest assault.

This God is allowing policies to be passed which will adversely affect “the least of these” for generations; this God continues to allow unarmed black and brown people to be shot by law enforcement officers and get away with it.

This same God allowed “good, God-fearing Christians” to participate in mass murders of black people without having to answer for it. (https://www.history.com/topics/roaring-twenties/tulsa-race-riot) (https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/death-hundreds-elaine-massacre-led-supreme-court-take-major-step-toward-equal-justice-african-americans-180969863/) . This God said and did nothing when black people and white allies tried to integrate churches during the 60s.

And just this week, this God allowed the United Methodist Church to pass a discriminatory judgment against the LGBTQA community. (https://www.npr.org/2019/03/02/699506797/united-methodists-face-fractured-future)

Why is God silent when people hurt and are discriminated against? Why does God apparently support racism and sexism and all of the other “isms” that cause so many people to suffer?

We don’t have answers, or at least I don’t. Black theologians have struggled with this question for the longest time. The late Rev. Dr. James Cone wrote extensively about it in his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree.

The challenge for pastors and preachers is to keep people believing in this silent God, elevating God above the stench of oppression wielded by white supremacy which is practiced all over the world.

Benito Mussolini, an adherent to and believer in white supremacy, said, “God does not exist. Religion in science is an absurdity.” I can’t go to that place; belief in a just God is the only thing that keeps oppressed people sane.

But if God wanted Donald Trump to be president, what does that say to the masses who are being oppressed and denied equality, justice, and fairness?

It would be nice if God would step up and put oppression in its place and exact from all who say they are believers …a command to stop throwing their whiteness around and treat all people with the dignity and respect all of God’s people deserve.

A candid observation …

The Slave Bible: The Unfortunate Reality of Competing Theologies

             As a “person of faith,” I have long struggled with trying to understand why racism persists and why God, whom I call “good,” allows it. I am angry at those who adhere to, believe in and practice white supremacy. I find myself angry when I walk around and see white people who don’t have to worry about their safety just because of their color; I envy the white mothers who do not have to worry about their sons being shot by police officers who shoot first and ask questions later. I am angry that white supremacy includes discrimination not only against blacks, but for all people of color, women, and people of different sexualities. I am angry that the outrage from this president was very subdued following the mass murder at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and that he said nothing at all about the two black people, one man, one woman, shot and killed by a crazed white man, who had such disregard for black people that he thought nothing of killing the man in front of his 12-year-old grandson. I am angry that so many white people don’t have a clue as to what people of color have to think about on a daily basis.

In my anger, I still struggle. I think it shows the insensitivity of white people when they say things that are offensive to black people and immediately scoff at the notion that they might be racist, and call their statements a “joke.” What they say is not funny, and worse, they know exactly what they are doing and saying. (https://www.nbcnews.com/video/hyde-smith-defends-public-hanging-comment-in-mississippi-senate-debate-1376441923880?v=raila&) I am offended that the Brian Kemp, the newly-elected governor of Georgia, won through a calculated strategy of voter suppression, and I am angry that not only is he not repentant about it but that few members of the GOP spoke against what he was doing. He says he’s “moving on,” which can’t be hard to do in that he accomplished his goal of basically manipulating the governorship from Stacey Abrams by using his power as the Georgia Secretary of State.

I am angry that African American people continue to bear the brunt of unequal treatment; I am angry that the bulk of people in prison are African American, largely because of the “war on drugs,” and I am angry that so many white people are “afraid” of who they believe to be “bad” people while concurrently are supportive of whites who now have permission to sell marijuana, the “crime” for which so many African Americans wound up in prison.

There’s more …but my point is that I have struggled with trying to find God in all of this. I wonder why God allows evil to exist, yes, but I especially wonder why God has allowed white supremacy to linger as a force in this world. I wonder why God does not and has not shut this ideology down, which is a travesty to the cause of the “beloved community.” Oppressed people all over the world wonder about God and suffering; I remember a little girl who, when Pope Francis visited her country, cried as she asked the pope why God allowed children to suffer? (http://www.catholicdigest.com/from-the-magazine/ask-father/201611-07why-does-god-permit-innocent-children-to-suffer/)

I struggle because there is a Bible which supposedly we all use – but I learned last week that in the 1800s, white slaveowners developed what they called “The Slave Bible.” (https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2018/february/freedom-in-christ-how-this-bible-was-used-to-manipulate) It was brought to the attention of a group of us sitting in a session of a conference on poverty, led by Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, the co-chair of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call to Moral Revival. It was she who pointed out that this Bible, on display at the National Bible Museum in Washington, D.C., was carefully constructed by whites who wanted enslaved blacks to remain “in their place.” This bible omits the story of the Exodus. It eliminates many of the prophets and in the book of Revelation, it has no mention of freedom or a “new heaven and new earth.” Their object, said Theoharis, was to make sure black people didn’t get the notion that God was on their side, that God was a supporter of freedom for all.

There were a couple of issues for me. First, I felt betrayed for some reason. The Bible, I was taught, was a holy book. I have often said that it would never happen that the Bible could be re-written, because of its holiness – but clearly, that was not the case. White supremacists, for all of their twisted beliefs in what God allows, are very insecure and will do (and have done) all they could to maintain their power. But to learn that they changed the Bible to support their ideology was a shock, and I don’t really know why.

This new nugget of knowledge made me disrespect even more the white evangelical subset of this society. As they have ostensible ignored their so-called commitment to “family values” in supporting a president who lies, who disrespects women and the Constitution of this country, I have been bothered and troubled. I have long wondered how they and anyone who oppresses others can justify their actions in that we (I thought) have one Bible with one set of rules and laws for us all. But that has not historically been the case, and those who were taught from the Slave Bible learned “scriptures” in a different way than I could ever have imagined. The bible of the slaveowners was meant for enslaved Africans, but clearly, it was familiar to white people and used by them as well. Enslaved Africans, it should be noted, rejected what this bible taught them as they 1) heard sermons delivered by abolitionists who preached that God was good, that he believed in freedom for all, and that slavery was wrong, and 2) enslaved Africans learned to read, and they were able to learn themselves what was in the untampered “holy book.”

We are all products of our upbringing and whites who believe in white supremacy were raised to believe that way. They have not disappeared and will not any time soon, but wouldn’t it be great if God would just put a holy hand on the earth and push this horrendous ideology out of existence?

Competing theologies have contributed to the national and international disgrace called white supremacy. The people who believe in and practice white supremacy believe they are right and they believe that God ordains and sanctions their actions. Apparently, the Slave Bible helped them get to where they are, and that is troubling.

A candid observation …

On the State of Health Care in America

I found myself really riveted by the film “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare” last evening on CNN.  While most of our country, I surmise, was watching “The Bible,” I could not turn from this amazing film.

According to an article which appeared on CNN.com, “ The film premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and received honors at the 2012 Silverdocs, Full Frame, and other prominent festivals.  The two-hour feature-length film was produced and directed by Matthew Heineman and Academy Award nominee Susan Froemke and distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate.”  (http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2013/03/01/cnn-launches-escape-fire-on-cable-television-in-march/)

What was so compelling was the confirmation of what many have posited as a major reason for the high cost of healthcare: it is profit-driven rather that patient-driven. Those interviewed, some former employees and/or executives of health insurance companies, sadly yet firmly admitted that the push for profit left far too many people needing basic and preventive health care on the sidelines, sorely abandoned.

A medical doctor said that she left a clinic in which she had been working because she and other physicians were forced to see a set number of patients per day – in order to protect and boost profits. It did not care to the power brokers, the insurance executives, if some patients needed a longer time with a physician. Nor was it on the radar for doctors to spend a lot of time indulging patients in conversations and education on how to prevent disease and illness. Our health care system focuses on treating disease, not on preventing it.

Largely driving costs is not only the attention given to treating disease, but also on a very aggressive pharmaceutical business which, it seems, depends and counts on people being sick so that they can and must buy expensive medicines for conditions which, if caught early enough, could minimize the need for drugs.

The documentary pointed out that only the United States and New Zealand advertise pharmaceuticals on television, driving up demand and in effect forcing doctors to prescribe these drugs for their patients who are drawn to the subliminal message of a complete cure via medication. Such advertising kept insurance and pharmaceutical execs silent for far too long when it was found that Avandia, a drug used to treat diabetes, was causing serious heart problems, including heart attacks.

I was saddened because I don’t see how a nation can continue to thrive when its quest for profit is so aggressive that it does not care for the masses. The article on CNN.com said that Americans spend twice as much on health care as any country on earth, yet “lags behind almost every industrialized nation in the world, ranking 50 out of 220 nations reporting.”

A nation cannot continue to thrive if conditions like that exist, can it?  At a time when the rift between rich and poor is steadily getting wider, when student debt is rising so much and so quickly that it is rivaling the national debt, and when the middle class is almost non-existent, where does all of the frustration of the people go? With the recent sequestration, more and more “average joes” are going to be most impacted, and sooner or later there is going to be widespread public protest. Some politicians keep insisting that the way out of our rising debt is spending cuts…but as the government cuts spending to help average and poor Americans, the fat cats will presumably get fatter …and that just does not bode well with folks.

Watching that documentary made me grateful that I have health insurance, but reminded me that one of the realities about insurance is that it is most valuable when one does not need it and does not use it. Have a house fire, get a serious illness, have too many auto accidents, and one’s insurance can be and very often is, cut off.  People in need of help drain profit and the potential for profit, and they are thus considered dross, extra weight and baggage, which must be eliminated.

The documentary really made me angry. I wondered how many politicians, if any, were watching. The health insurance lobby is a powerful one and, I suspect, supports most those politicians who will fight any potential law or regulation which will eat into insurance profits. That means that the politicians who are sworn to represent the needs of  “the people” don’t care about us, the electorate, except for our votes. They would rather make it seem that the problem is big government, and build a platform upon which many people are eager to stand, when in effect it is big business.

I once asked which was better for a nation, big business or big government, and decided that it would be wonderful, maybe idyllic, if government and business could and would join forces so that people could realize profits while simultaneously making sure that the masses of Americans were taken care of.  It seems that there is enough money in the health care business to make sure everyone is insured and thus have access to quality, preventive health care. That sort of arrangement, though, would cut into profits, so there is no effort to create that reality, or so it seems.

People in this great “democracy” are turned away daily from health care facilities because they cannot pay for care and treatment. Does that mean America is not so much a democracy after all?  Is there a definition of democracy that is “out there” which says democracy is not supposed to be or offer a level playing field? Are we really a democracy if we are more concerned with the proliferation of profits over people, if we are more interested in protecting corporations than the families and individuals which make the success of the corporations possible?

How ironic that, at the same time “The Bible” was playing, a story which mandates people to take care of the poor and the oppressed, this film was also showing which showed the tendency of human beings to outright ignore Biblical directives. The documentary is coming on again this Friday evening. While I don’t want to get angry all over again,I really do what to watch it even more closely, to understand what is going on in our beloved country. Something does not smell right or feel right. Too many people are suffering, and too few people are living high on the hog. There ought to be a middle ground that is beneficial and fair to both groups.

A candid observation

 

Who Cares for the Poor?

It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.

 

It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing;  apparently, if  Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.

 

But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation.  It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.

 

The growing gap between rich and poor, the shrinking of the middle class, is not just an American problem. In China, reports Rob Schmitz, “the number of people …who still live on less than two dollars a day is equal to the entire population of the United States.”  (http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/street-eternal-happiness/celebrating-chinese-new-year-street-eternal-happiness). Ironically, the very poor sit on a street named “The Street of Eternal Happiness.” The well to do most often walk past the beggars; the sense of disdain is hardly unnoticeable.

 

There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.

 

There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”

 

While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel.  When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard.  The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”

 

Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.

 

If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.

 

Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class.  He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.

 

The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.

 

“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.

 

Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.

 

It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.

 

Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.

 

Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.

 

But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it?  To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.

 

In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.

 

The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.

 

Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.

 

Capitalism
Capitalism (Photo credit: Juliano Mattos)

 

You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.

 

A candid observation …

 

What Does the Bible Say, Really?

There are some things we just don’t think about.

Susan Thistlewaite, Chicago Theological Seminary professor, author and scholar, gives some sobering information in her latest book, Occupy the Bible. She says that we ought to read the Bible from the perspective of the homeless, the hungry, the economically stressed.

It was from their perspective that Jesus formed his ministry, she says …and the Bible says.

In a workshop she gave, she said, “Student debt is approaching one trillion dollars. That’s more than credit card debt and if the trend continues, in a few years, student debt will be higher than the national debt. We need to read the Bible from that perspective.”

Students are stressed out and depressed. They have gone to school and gotten degrees, only to find that they are not able to get work, or enough money to pay their student loans.”Students are stressed out and depressed,” Thistlewaite said. “Some are committing suicide.”

There are a lot of reasons for the economic state of this nation, but greed is a big one, posits Thistlewaite. Greed has led banks and other financial institutions, including those which dole out student loans, to go haywire, thinking not about the people who are getting the loans they are giving out but instead by the profit they will make off people who are really trying to make an honest living.

Jesus was a revolutionary, primarily because he challenged the Roman government. He didn’t get into trouble because he taught people to love; he got in trouble because he challenged the status quo. He got into trouble because he taught people that the kingdom in which they should seek comfort was the heavenly kingdom, where there was fairness and equality amongst people,  not the earthly kingdom, headed by the Romans, which led people into economic despair and support economic inequality.

“Theology begins where pain is,” says Thistlewaite. And clearly, there is pain amongst the people who are working and still cannot make ends meet. That group includes students, but also the so-called “working poor,” who, in spite of working sometimes two and three jobs, are still struggling to keep their heads above water. The economic state of our nation is slowly wiping out the middle class, and, observes Thistlewaite, there can be no democracy without a middle class.

Our economic dilemma is made all the worse as the issue is argued using the Bible as justification for both liberal and conservative positions. Thistlewaite says that “the Right thinks the Bible supports free market capitalism.” The Left, conversely, uses the Bible to support an economy which supports equal distribution of wealth. Parables, like found in the Book of Matthew 25:14-30, where a wealthy landowner gave three different “slaves” (translated from the Greek “doulos”) rewarded the two who multiplied money given to them, and cast out the one who hid the money given to him, invite two different interpretations, one from the Left, one from the Right. Who, in that parable and others, is doing the will of God, asks Thistlewaite.

One Bible. Two desperately different interpretations …and the odd men out are the struggling, working poor.

We don’t want to think about the state of our economy or what God really demands. It is totally inconceivable to me that anyone would think that God supports poverty or the abject and real suffering that is endured by the working poor, just as it is inconceivable to me that a good God would support racism or sexism or militarism. I grew up believing that a good God wanted all people to be taken care of, that God wanted economic and social justice for all people. Is that naive?

Neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament, naiveté notwithstanding, seem to support misery, with a very few people being very comfortable at the expense of many poor people suffering. People got into big trouble with God in the Bible for not being hospitable, not taking care of widows and the poor. God didn’t change, did He/She?

There are some things we don’t want to think about it, but we need to. Bottom line, there’s too much suffering caused by economic distress, in this, the wealthiest nation in the world.

A candid observation …

Visit Thistlewaite’s website at http://www.occupythebible.org