The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Sunday, February 22, 2015

God's Preference for the Poor

Roots of Liberation
Sunday, February 22, 2015  
One of the great themes of the Bible, which begins in the Hebrew Scriptures and is continued in Jesus, is the preferential option for the poor, or the bias from the bottom. About 1200 years before Christ, Israel was at the bottom, an enslaved people in Egypt. The Exodus, the great journey of the Hebrew people out of slavery and finally into the Promised Land, is an archetype of the interior spiritual journey from entrapment to liberation. It is the universal story.

Moses, himself a man at "the bottom" (a murderer on the run and caring for his father-in-law's sheep), first encounters God in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2), which, like so many initial religious experiences, is experienced alone, externally and yet interiorly as well, both earth-based and transcendent at the same time: "Take off your shoes, this is holy ground" (3:5). This religious experience is immediately followed by a call to a very costly social concern for his own oppressed people, whom he had not cared about up to then. God said, "I have heard the groaning of my people in Egypt. You, Moses, are to go confront the Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go" (3:9-10).

There, right at the beginning of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the perfect integration of action and contemplation. First, the contemplative experience comes--the burning bush. And immediately it has social, economic, and political implications. The connection is clear. There is no authentic God experience that does not situate you in the world in a different way. After an encounter with Presence you see things differently, and it gives you the security to be free from your usual loyalties: the system that you have lived in, your economics, and your tribe. Your screen of life expands exponentially.

I believe the Exodus story--with Moses and the Jewish people--is the root of all liberation theology, which Jesus clearly exemplifies in the synoptic Gospels (see Luke 4:18-19). Liberation theology focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression (i.e., what Pope John Paul II called "structural sin" and "institutional evil"). It goes beyond just trying to free individuals from their own particular "naughty behaviors," which is what sin has seemed to mean to most Christian people in our individualistic culture.

Liberation theology, instead of legitimating the status quo, tries to read reality, history, and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but "Where is the suffering?" This makes all the difference in how we read the Bible.

God sees all the many kinds of suffering in the world. The world tends to define poverty and riches simply in terms of economics. But poverty has many faces--weakness, dependence, or humiliation. Essentially, poverty is a lack of means to accomplish what one desires, be it lack of money, relationships, influence, power, intellectual ability, physical strength, freedom, or dignity. Scriptures promise that God will take care of such people, because they know they have to rely on God.
Adapted from Gospel Call for Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom) inCAC Foundation Set (CDMP3 download);
and Job and the Mystery of Suffering
(published by Crossroad Publishing Company), p. 126 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It is my money!

Among the many stories of the early church is this one found in The Acts of the Holy Spirit, chapter 16:

One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.
When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood” (The Message).
Following Jesus has economic consequences. Following Jesus will change how you spend money. Following Jesus will change how you earn your money. Why? Because followers of Jesus know their lives are under the reign of King Jesus. There is no room for “I will spend my money the way I want to!” when you decide that your allegiance is to the King of Kings.
Ron Friesen © 2015

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Reflection 2015

There is my status update on Facebook from a few minutes ago: 

It is Ash Wednesday for the Christian community. I think we should sit in ashes over the increasing violence in our world. The reign of death continues all around us.

Where is God? I am sure some are asking as news report document the violence around us. 

The story of Ash Wednesday and its attendant Lenten season of 40 days of reflection provide an answer to this question. God is suffering with us. God has joined us in the violence and received the violence of humanity on the cross. The cross which marks the end of this season of reflection is a the cross of the suffering God. 

Christianity is unique among world religions in its belief that God has entered human space and time and taken on human suffering to transform it into meaning and purpose in the cross. If we believe that suffering is meaningless we will soon devolve into Sartre's abyss of absurdity. Is it any wonder that suicide rates continue to rise in the western world? We have lost any belief in the meaning of suffering.

Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent remind us that God is a suffering God.

On this Ash Wednesday as people are senselessly killed, we join those dying that human suffering is not in vain. We weep, as God does, with those who weep.

Ron Friesen (c) 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Faith in Christ Alone?

Reader Warning: The following reflection on Acts 15 will be of specific interest to those who are interested in the internal debates within Christendom. If you do not see yourself as a follower of Jesus you will likely find this discussion to be strange.

What do you have to believe to be a follower of Jesus? Or what do you have to do to demonstrate that you are a follower of Jesus? This issue quickly confronted the early church because the Jewish faith had a number of requirements for those who claimed adherence to the faith. The main issue was circumcision. There were also a number of other issues such as eating meat with blood in it, participating in sexual immorality (participation in the Greek religion’s practice of the use of temple prostitutes), meat or foods dedicated to idols and meat from animals that were not properly killed, e.g. strangled.

The Jerusalem Council, the first council of the church, decided that salvation or the way of faith was by faith in Christ and Christ alone. Circumcision would not be a requirement of those who professed faith in the Christian faith. The council did decide that those who followed the Way of Jesus would: …abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19).

The behaviors required of the new followers of Jesus who came from the Greek community were not intended to help them curry favor with God or to increase their likelihood of entrance into God’s presence. They were requested in order to reduce offense to the followers of Jesus who came from the Jewish community. Careful reading of the text suggests that the leaders of the early church were almost embarrassed to make these requests of the new followers of Jesus from the Greek community.

Over the years the church has always struggled with this issue: Is our faith in God through Jesus the Christ alone? The answer has always been: Yes!

Ronald Friesen © 2015

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Don't forget to look up and be grateful.....

How does God work in the world? Those who pursue a Judeo-Christian perspective are not deists. The historic view of Jews and Christians is that God is actively involved in the world and is known by his self-revelation. The first form of God’s revelation is in nature:

“In past generations he (God) allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17).

While many Christians argue about the “how” of the world’s existence, the issue in the end is this: Does your experience of nature around you lead you to recognize Someone greater than yourself? The Bible is much more interested in the WHO of nature than the HOW of nature. To focus on the how of nature is to miss the point of nature’s witness.

Nature’s witness leads to humility and gratitude. Many people struggle to assume their humility and even more struggle to find anything for which to be grateful. Lack of humility creates the arrogance we see around us every day; lack of gratitude leads to the spiritual drought evident in our culture.

Ron Friesen © 2015

Monday, February 2, 2015

Free! Free at last!

Some of the most interesting sections of the Acts of the Holy Spirit are the sermons given by various apostles. In the thirteenth chapter, St. Peter is giving a defense of the behaviors and beliefs of the early church. Here is one sentence of his sermon:

“Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38-39).

As I have worked with people over the past 40 years one of the greatest quests of these people is freedom, particularly, the freedom from guilt.

There is a long-standing perception that while rules are binding they are also freeing. Rules give you boundaries in which to live. You know what you can and what you cannot do. Rules remove much of the doubt about living. Many people are grateful for rules.

But rules do not take care of the guilt when you violate them. Rules only make you feel worse! What to do?

The proclamation of the Christian message is that you do not need to be a slave of guilt. God is a God of forgiveness. God is a God of boundless grace. Remember when God forgives there are no priors. The slate is wiped clean.

Ron Friesen © 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Face the sword.....

The story of the persecution continues:

“About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.”

The church has always faced a hostile environment. Followers of Jesus should not assume that they will face a conflict-free world. For over 200 years American Christians have experienced the ability to worship in safety and security. To declare that you worship King Jesus will always put you in conflict with this world.

The story does not end with the hostility the church finds in its environment. The chapter that began with the words we read above, ends with these words:

“On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.”

Do not claim God’s place: God is a jealous God.

Ronald Friesen © 2015