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

Being Careful About What You Ask For

At the beginning of a series of sermons I did on prayer, I shared with the congregation that I was praying that my prayer would lead to a life-changing experience.

Well, I got my wish!

You always hear old people say, “be careful what you pray for,” and they say that for a reason. It’s because when you put the desire of your spirit “out there,” the universe receives it. The universe definitely received my prayer request…as did God.

The experience of having such a powerful prayer request granted has thrown me off just a bit. I should have specified what kind of life-changing experience I was looking for. I knew that I felt inadequate as a pastor, I knew that I felt, actually, like a failure in that capacity. But I also knew that in the areas of being a pastor where I am good, I was really good.

Well, God has jokes. God answered my prayer. I have resigned my role as pastor. I am scared out of my mind about what my “next steps” will be. I believe that God is faithful…but I don’t know what my life will look like after November 30 of this year.

In this place of newness, I am learning new things about God, and about things I have always believed in, like, for instance, baptism. There are three symbols of baptism, as listed in the Bible: death, burial and resurrection. Certainly, in some experiences, in order to be transformed, the “old” us has to die and be buried before the new “us” can resurrect. I am convinced, however, that baptism is not a single  event, but is, rather, a series of experiences. In other words, in this life, we “die” rather frequently as we move closer to becoming who God intends for us to be and do. We cannot move forward until the “old” us dies …and is buried.

Well, the “old” Susan has taken her last breath. Burial is pending…but so is resurrection.

This dying, being buried and then being resurrected, while it sounds nice, is rather painful. While I have complete faith and trust in God, I do not like the pain of dying. It really hurts!  And yet, nothing new can come until something old has died. Even as I write this, the leaves of summer are dying and falling to the ground.

I wonder what the United States would be like if it allowed the “old”  United States, you know, the USA that was founded on a principle of equality but has moved forward in a culture based on inequality and oppression of  “the least of these.” Indeed, my reading and finding out that our own country had deep involvement in the Eugenics Movement, has sobered me. I wonder what would happen if our country would “own up” to its sins of oppression and discrimination, and ask God for that spirit which still exists to die, what our country would ultimately look and be like.

We would hurt for a bit, but we would be transformed. After death and burial, newness comes. It is inevitable. I know…because I am living it.

As we are in this 2012 presidential election cycle, I find myself, a woman who asked for transformation and who is getting it, asking God to show me my transformation means for my life, my work and my ministry. I wonder if President Obama or Governor Romney have transformation of our country and its policies on their minds.

Probably not.  Too painful. Too involved.

But if a new USA could arise out of this election, and if that resurrected USA could begin to see “the least of these” in a new way, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Nothing new comes from something old.

A candid observation …