Posted by: Dan | August 20, 2004

…there your heart will be also.

“'He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; then it was well. Is not that what it means to know me?' Declares the LORD. 'But your eyes and your heart are intent only upon your own dishonest gain, and on shedding innocent blood and on practicing oppression and extortion.'”
Jeremiah 22.16f

How do you teach middle and upper class Christians that journeying with people who are suffering, journeying with the poor and oppressed, the abused and abandoned, is at the heart of following Jesus?

They say that they have harmed no one in getting wealth, in fact they are defined by integrity. I say they haven't realized the depth of corruption that exists in our society.

I try to tell them that God aligns himself with the oppressed, that God sides with the poor (and as a result often sides against the rich), and if we are pursuing godliness we need to do the same, and they walk away offended. Too selfish(?) to admit that following Jesus means carrying a cross, too scared(?) to admit that carrying a cross is actually tangible suffering and not just flowery rhetoric.

This, after all, isn't what they've grown up hearing in church. So I try and tell them the stats, the overwhelming amount of passages in the Bible that speak of wealth and poverty, and of God siding with the oppressed but they don't believe me. I quote specific passages and they quickly try to rationalize and spiritualize what is a concrete call.

They tell me rich people need Jesus too, and I tell them that maybe the rich will start finding Jesus if they started giving up their riches. They tell me there needs to be people to share Jesus with rich people and I tell them that we should then be telling the rich that they're only fooling themselves into thinking they're following Jesus if they're still accumulating wealth.

I try to remind them that we're talking about relationships, we're talking about journeying with people who are suffering, but they can't get passed their relationships with their possessions.

I remember Jesus saying it's harder for a rich man to get into the kingdom than it is for a camel to go through the eye of the needle. They talk about how the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem that was very small. I tell them that for a camel to get through the gate it had to dump it's pack and crawl through on it's knees. They say, yeah, but it got through right? And I say, start loving people more (or for the first time) and loving your stuff less.

They say, yeah, but look at what I give to the poor. And I say maybe you should focus less on what you're giving to the poor and more on how much you're taking from them. If you steal 100% and then give back 10% I'm not gonna call you a hero.

They say, Jesus is talking about where our heart is, do we own our things or do our things own us? I say Jesus says that where our treasure is there our heart lies also – and let's not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise. They say Jesus is just emphasizing he should be number one in our lives. I say that Jesus is saying don't start following me unless you've realized that there is a tremendous cost. He's not number one, he's the only one.

I try to tell them, start loving people who are suffering, and they walk away reassuring themselves that it's okay to be affluent. They admit that there are dangers to wealth, but they're up to the challenge… and before they know it, they've forgetten the suffering and the poor once again.

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Responses

  1. I agree with the main thrust of this, God does want us to help the “afflicted and needy.” I might argue with a point or three concerning the specifics of this post, but from the sound of it that would make it seem like I was defending materialism somehow. Since that isn’t the case, I’ll say no more than I have.

  2. I think you’re a dumbass.

  3. Well said, anonymous, well said.

  4. Oops, sorry, that last one was from me (JAG).

  5. Jamie, Jamie, Jamie,

    I’ve tried to disregard your comments but it seems like you want to continue to post them. Generally I feel your little criticisms have been great examples of missing the point and I’ve felt that any critical thinker would be able to pick up on that. But you seem to want to continue to comment. I guess now is as good a time as any to respond to you.

    I think that your post is a perfect example of the Christian mediocrity, compromise and idolatry I’m talking about.

    Of course you agree with the main thrust of the post. After all who doesn’t want to help the needy and the afflicted? Pretty much everybody agrees that all we need is a little more love in this world.

    Of course you disagree with “a point or three.” After all that would mean you would have to start changing the way you live your life. Uh oh, you might not be able to live so comfortably. Uh oh, you may enter some unknown waters. Uh oh, Jesus may not have been kidding when he talked about carrying crosses, counting the cost and encountering rejection. Oh oh, maybe Bonhoeffer was really on to something when he said suffering was the badge of discipleship. Uh oh, maybe when he said suffering he really meant suffering.

    Not surprisingly you don’t provide the reasons why you disagree. It seems that I am simply to trust that your motives are pure… pardon me for being skeptical. You are afraid that it will seem like you are defending materialism. Uh oh, maybe you are and you just can’t admit it to yourself. Maybe materialism is only one symptom of the broader issue of idolatry that has crept into our churches. Maybe you don’t realize how deeply you are compromised. That, after all, is the call of the prophets in the Old Testament. Over and over they cry out, “You think you understand what it means to be the people of God, you’ve got all the sacrifices, all the prayers, all the festivals, all the Sabbaths nailed. But God isn’t even listening to you anymore. You haven’t realized how compromised you are on a societal level. You think you are God’s people because you pray to YHWH and not Baal, but you’ve missed the point that idolatry is something that plays out in society, in your economics, in your jobs and in your politics.”

  6. Re: “How do you teach middle and upper class Christians…?”

    Was the point of this post to speak to Christians like me? (Maybe not, maybe it’s a semi-personal record of your thoughts.) Was the point of your reply to speak to ‘mediocre’ Christians like me? (Yes.) I am here and you have labeled me as such. I have provided you with another chance to try and teach your ideas. Are you trying to teach me by ridicule?

    My point, and the implied point of my first reply, is that it’s difficult to hear the truth you have to say if you say it the way that you have.

    Potential Arguments:
    1) Can a church organization be rich? Rich churches can help poor people in ways that poor churches cannot. (By ‘rich churches’ I mean those that have a lot of monthly income, not those that have ostentatious wealth.)

    2) Re: “He’s not number one, he’s the only one.”
    I hear the intended emphasis, but I disagree with the statement. I heard Jesus summarize it this way: Love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. That’s three: God, our neighbour, ourselves.

    3) Some would say that you cannot help others with credit cards, you only hurt yourself. It’s suggested that you have to be financially stable in order to help those who are not. Does ‘financially stable’ equate to something morally wrong?

  7. Jamie,

    Was the journal directed at you? Certainly not. Was the journal directed at “‘mediocre’ Christians like you”? Once again the answer is no. Believe it or not this journal is directed at me. It’s a journal of personal reflections that I like to write out because it helps me to think through things. I may be wrong in thinking this way but I’ve always thought that this was the whole purpose of a journal. The reason why I’ve decided to journal here is because I find it much easier to record my thoughts by typing, as opposed to writing. Plus I thought it would be a good way of keeping distant family and friends engaged in dialogue. A way to stay in touch.

    So let me be clear: I’m not trying to teach anybody anything through this journal. If people feel there is something to learn here, well, great, but that’s certainly not why I journal. Saying you have provided me with “another chance to try and teach my ideas” completely misses the point of this journal… and makes me not want to even engage in conversation. This is just a record of reflections that I opened to some close friends (there are only two exceptions: a woman who is a fantastic writer and seems like an even more incredible person… and you. I suspect you discovered my journal before I was able to get Abe to remove it from the links on his blog).

    Don’t think I am trying to teach you with ridicule. I did not call you a mediocre Christian, I simply said that your post was a great example of the mediocrity I was seeking to counter. Understand the distinction?

    So with all that in mind let’s get to your point. You wrote:

    “My point, and the implied point of my first reply, is that it’s difficult to hear the truth you have to say if you say it the way you have.”

    Maybe now you can understand why that doesn’t really concern me too much.

    Although, if you study Jesus (or any of the prophets from Samuel to Paul) you will discover he was constantly speaking truths that were difficult for his audience to hear. Jesus was constantly speaking difficult truths. That’s why he alienated himself from basically all the power groups of his time, be that the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, or the Romans. In the end all those groups stood in opposition to him.

    The contemporary (and compromised) church has become a master of speaking easy truths (offering what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace” – grace with discipleship, following Jesus without a cost) and that’s a large part of the reason why it only becomes more deeply compromised.

    So, really I think that should clear up this whole discussion.

    As for the potential arguments… well, if you take some time to think about them I’m confident that you’ll be able to figure out for yourself why they are further examples of missing the point.

  8. Yes, I did come across this site because of a briefly-active link from Abe’s blog. Would you like me to stop visiting this site or to stop posting comments? I will do so if you ask. (JAG)

  9. *sigh*

    No, I don’t mind you reading the journal. I’m okay with you leaving comments… on one condition. This site is not a teaching tool, I am not trying to teach anybody and I would certainly appreciate it if you weren’t trying to teach anybody either. If you want to post then tell my your thoughts, your questions… not just a string of “potential arguments” that you don’t even agree with yourself. I ran into the same issue with Abe. I would send him a paper and want to know his personal thoughts, want to see his personal interaction with the ideas and he would just send an impersonal critique (correcting grammar of all things) and raise possible objections (that weren’t his own). I could really care less about possible objections… or grammar mistakes. I can proof read for those (and anticipate most objections) myself.

    However, if you want to engage personally, in a genuine dialogue, instead of in some sort of intellectual debate than feel free to comment. Even feel free to disagree. Of course I may choose to not respond, just like when anybody else posts.

  10. Let’s try this again from scratch. I assume you’re all right with Christians being members of the middle and upper class and are not suggesting that God prefers that Christians remain poor. So how can such Christians be sure that they’re not forgetting about the suffering and the poor? How can such Christians tell if they have forgotten the poor?


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