Daily Riches: The Vantage Point of Privilege (Robert McAfee Brown)

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mahatma Gandhi

“Third world Christians think that people like us read the Bible from the vantage point of our privilege and comfort and screen out those parts that threaten us. They tell us that the basic viewpoint of the biblical writers is that of victims, those who have been cruelly used by society, the poor and oppressed. They further tell us that they are the contemporary counterparts of those biblical victims, cruelly used by contemporary society, the poor and oppressed. . . . Is that what the Bible is really all about? Enough third world Christians are saying so . . . to impel us to explore the matter and see whether there might be a new word for us as well. . . .
The Bible says a great deal about ‘the poor.’ Sometimes it seems as though the message is so exclusively for the poor that the rest of us are either ignored or castigated . . . . The poor do get a lot of attention in the Bible, the nonpoor get a lot of attention in the church and usually end up running things. One reason for this is that the nonpoor have become the official interpreters of the Scriptures and have managed to take most of the sting out of passages dealing with the poor. Luke’s blunt talk about ‘the poor,’ we are instructed, must be interpreted in the light of Matthew’s fuller ‘poor in spirit,’ a classification to which we can all aspire, since it has none of the rude realities of ‘material poverty’ (lack of food, clothing, shelter, employment) attached to it. ‘Spiritual poverty’ in fact becomes a Christian virtue, and we are encouraged to affirm a life-style that puts no premium on goods and possessions but equally does not suggest that we need to get rid of them. It’s all a matter of attitude. . . . The more we press this kind of logic–as the church has done with consummate skill for centuries–the less threatening the Bible becomes. If people can be ‘poor in spirit’ whether materially wealthy or materially deprived, then we can concentrate on the ‘inner’ life and keep the gospel insulated from such aspects of ‘outer’ life as the nature of the economic order, the equitable sharing of the world’s goods, or the need to care for the indigent.” Robert McAfee Brown

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Jesus in Luke 6:20

Moving From Head to Heart

*Do you hear about the poor in church? Do you think much about them? Do you know much about them? Are any of them your frieinds?

*Do you see God as an active, aggressive advocate for the poor?

*If your answer is “no” to these questions, might you/your church be “screening out” threatening parts of the Bible?

Abba, open my ears to hear the poor.

For More: Unexpected News by Robert McAfee Brown

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Daily Riches: A Pecking Order (N. T. Wright)

“One of the worst moments was on Easter morning many years ago. . . . Clearly the place was already packed. . . . I turned round and saw a man I knew a bit, a very senior and distinguished person in the city. I was flattered to be recognized and singled out. . . . ‘Come with me: he said conspiratorially. He led me forward, past the queue, to one of the ushers. ‘I am Lord Smith: he said to the man . . . . ‘I would be grateful if you could find my friend and myself somewhere to sit.’ Before I had time to think, the two of us were escorted right to the front of the church, where we were given excellent seats . . . . But I didn’t enjoy it. I was thinking of James chapter 2, and wondering if either my acquaintance or the usher had read it recently. . . .the whole passage simply rules out any question of pulling social rank in church. This is part of what James means at the end of the previous chapter by not letting the world leave its dirty smudge on you. The world is always assessing people, sizing them up, putting them down, establishing a pecking order. And God, who sees and loves all alike, wants the church to reflect that generous, universal love in how it behaves. In some parts of the early church they had a rule . . . that if a stranger came in, particularly a poor stranger, the bishop himself would leave his chair and go to the door to welcome the newcomer. I have often wished I had the courage to do that.” N. T. Wright

“Did God not choose the poor of this world
to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised
to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.”
James 2:5,6a

Moving From Head to Heart

*Is there a “privilege pecking order” at work in your church? Are you a victim of it? . . . its perpetrator?

*How does status or lack of status affect your church experience?

*Can you determine to show “preferential treatment” to those at the bottom of the pecking order? Can you work to “see”, speak to, and include such persons?

*What grade does your church receive when it comes to honoring all comers equally? . . . with the same access? . . . the same affection? Do you need to find a new church?

God, I confess my part in this eternal problem. May real change begin with me.


For More: The Early Christian Letters for Everyone by N. T. Wright

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Thanks for reading my blog! Please extend my reach by reposting on your social media platforms. If you like these topics and this approach, you’ll like my book Wisdom From the Margins.

Daily Riches: With Passion Withheld and Devotion Impaired (Margaret Clarkson and Walter Brueggemann)

In the course of her life, Margaret Clarkson became intimately acquainted with pain. She suffered initially with “migraines, accompanied by convulsive vomiting, and then arthritis—two ailments that accompanied her continually. In Destined for Glory, she related sadly that her mother told her that her first words were ‘my head hurts.’ At age three …she contracted juvenile arthritis and became bed bound. She recalled the pain as well as the bald spot worn on the back of her head from lying in bed so long.” …And that was just the beginning of a difficult life of loneliness, financial strain and disappointment. Through it all, Clarkson also developed an intimacy with God, and a transformative perspective on Christian ministry. Her hymn “So Send I You” has been called the greatest missionary hymn of the twentieth century.

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“So send I you–to labor unrewarded,
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown,
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing,
So send I you to toil for me alone.

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“So send I you–to bind the bruised and broken,

o’er wandering souls to work, to weep, to wake,

to bear the burdens of a world a’weary

So send I you to suffer for My sake.

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“So send I you–to loneliness and longing,
With heart a-hungering for the loved and known;
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one,
So send I you to know my love alone.

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“So send I you–to leave your life’s ambitions,
To die to dear desire, self-will resign,
To labor long and love where men revile you,
So send I you to lose your life in mine.

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“As the Father has sent me,

So send I you.”

“So Send I You” by Margaret Clarkson

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“But we confess…
we love you imperfectly;
we love you with a divided heart,
with a thousand other loves
that are more compelling,
with reservation and qualification,
and passion withheld and
devotion impaired.”
Walter Brueggemann

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“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
Jesus in John 20:21

Moving From Head to Heart

  • I was trying to imagine how this hymn would be received in church today. Can you?
  • “To leave your life’s ambitions, to die to dear desire, self-will resign, to labor long and love where men revile you”–is there room in our idea of ministry for this today? What emotions do these words stir up in you?
  • Are we hoping to be useful to God “with passion withheld and devotion impaired”–as “a privileged people?”

Abba, may I give myself for you, as you gave yourself for me–without reservation.

For More: Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggemann

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow and share my my blog. Thanks! – Bill

Daily Riches: A Life as Perfect and Pretty as Pinterist (Sarah Bessey)

“When we visited the makeshift tent city, I was angry. Oh yes—angry with God, angry with the world, angry with my own self. How is this place even possible in our world? I could not bear the smell, the sights, the truth of the place, and I saw babies the age of my tinies there.  …and all of my carefully reasoned understandings about how everyone has a different calling and some of us are just called to different things than poverty relief and caring for orphans stank rank like heresy. I walked the rubble and nodded my gentle French Canadian bonsoir to their Creole bonswa as dusk gathered, and suddenly a thought broke into my mind: I would be terrified here. I would be so scared in the darkness. How did these women bear it? And one of our guides told me how before the United Nations installed spotlights it was literally a ‘rape camp.’ And then we stood in that very same tent city, among our Haitian brothers and sisters, babies in our laps, and we sang the canvas roof off: ‘Glory, glory, glory to God; he’s been good to us! Amen! Amen!’ Me? I want to throw things when I am disappointed in my nice life. I pout, and I do not sing praise, because apparently, I expect my life to be perfect and clean and ideal and as pretty as Pinterest. I didn’t want to cry in their church, out of respect, and so I sneaked my tears down my face. I still don’t know if I was grieving or angry in that moment. A boy about seven years old asked me to marry him someday—such a flirt. …I think I got born again, all over again, that night, and now God smells like sweat, like open sewage ditches, like charcoal and avocados in addition to my northern lakes and pine trees, clean air, and water.” Sarah Bessey

“I will sing praises to your name.” 2 Samuel 22:50
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Moving From the Head to the Heart
  • Are you a privileged person? How often to you think about it?
  • Have you ever left home for a really different place and been “born again, all over again?”
  • Are you quick to pout and slow to praise? What does your answer say about you?

Abba, the poor can teach me. Help me learn from them.

For More: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest! – Bill

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”

Daily Riches: First-Century Faith Today (Diana Butler Bass and Rodney Stark)

“As much as contemporary believers might find similarities between our time and that of Christianity in ancient Rome, the two are not the same. The ancient Mediterranean world that Rome once ruled was a vast, culturally diverse set of societies, unrelated by languages, economics, religions, and histories, all forced into political unity by a brutal military. Vast numbers of people who inhabited the Roman Empire resented or hated Roman rule and experienced few, if any, benefits from its social and economic structures. The empire was not in any modern way even vaguely democratic or inclusive; instead, it was a rigidly hierarchical and status-based world of haves and have-nots, of masters and slaves. Unlike a Hollywood sword-and-sandal film, the ancient world was not a pleasant place absent conveniences such as sewer systems and running water. As sociologist Rodney Stark describes, ‘Greco-Roman cities were small, extremely crowded, filthy beyond imagining, disorderly, filled with strangers, and afflicted with frequent catastrophes—fires, plagues, conquests, and earthquakes.’ Unlike Western urban life today, where even the poor have access to marginally acceptable services, ‘life in antiquity abounded in anxiety and misery’ for nearly everyone.” Diane Butler Bass

Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” 2 Corinthians 11:25-27

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Is your faith deep enough and strong enough that it would sustain you in a world like the one described?
  • Is the gospel you trust in and share with others sufficient for such a world? Would it make sense? Would it be heard as good news?
  • Imagine yourself living in that world. What would it mean to live like Jesus there?

Abba, thank you for the cushy life I enjoy. Show me what you expect of me in my privileged time and place.

For More: A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story by Diana Butler Bass

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God and he seeks you. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. If you liked this, please share it! I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

Daily Riches: Religion and Established Privilege (Thomas Merton)

“Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the ‘opium of the people.’ And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system – when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandists, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything. God is the status quo.” Thomas Merton

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is –
his good, pleasing and perfect will. “
Romans 12:1, 2

 Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Does your religious experience “deaden the spirit” rather than invigorating it? Does it squelch individuality and produce conformity? Does it discourage imagination and curiosity?
  • Does it tend to prop up some unjust “social [or] economic system? Does it support the “status quo” as a way that is out of step with the Bible’s insistence upon justice?
  • Has your faith in God become “in fact faith in your own nation, class or race?”
  • Has your religious ethic somehow become something other than the “law …of love?”
  • Are you comfortable with your answers to these questions? If not, what can change?

Abba, help me to speak to the status quo instead of being shaped by it. Strengthen me to question established, unjust privilege and work to undo it. Work in me your earth-changing “law of love.”

For More: Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton

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These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek after God and he seeks after you. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. My goal is to share something of unique value with you daily in 400 words or less. I appreciate your interest!  –  Bill (Psalm 90:14)

“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”