Tag Archives: Oppression

God’s People, part 96: Zephaniah

Read Zephaniah 3:1-13

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (Romans‬ ‭3:23‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 96: Zephaniah. In order to talk about Zephaniah, we need to travel back to King Josiah. It was under the great reformer king that Zephaniah was a prophet. Again, we know very little about Zephaniah himself, other than what is revealed of him in the eponymous short book in the Hebrew Testament. Here’s what we know of him for sure. Zephaniah was the son of Cushi, who “was the son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah” (1:1b). If you follow the generations, Zephaniah was the great-grandson of King Hezekiah.

The first part of verse 1 states that Zephaniah was a prophet under the rule of King Josiah. Given the fact that Josiah, himself, is known to be a great reformer, it seems that Zephaniah was his greatest advocate. He, no doubt, spoke up against the critics that would have risen up against the reforms that Josiah was pushing to have put in place.

Zephaniah’s prophecy spoke against idolatry, pride, corruption, and those who “remain complacent in their sins”. His prophecy also pointed fingers at the surrounding nations and/or kingdoms that have defiled Judah with their idols, their religious practices, and their bloodshed against God’s people. Finally, Zephaniah held Jerusalem, the seat of power in the Kingdom of Judah, accountable. He called the city “rebellious and polluted…the city of violence and crime.” He charged the city with haughty arrogance, a city that refuses correction and that refuses to put its trust in God. He proclaims that its leaders are like roaring lions who hunt their victims.

‭‭He also brought charges against Jerusalem’s judges, which he said were “like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.” The prophets, he proclaimed, were arrogant liars who are merely seeking their own gain; the priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions. It is easy to get hung up on the “wrathful God” language used in Zephaniah and other prophetic texts; however, when one understands the abuses of power and corruption that the prophets are crying out against, one can understand why God would be angry. ‬‬‬‬

Such corruption, arrogance, unfaithfulness and injustice brings about consequences and justice will have its day. Zephaniah does not leave us with a wrathful ending, either. God is just. God is merciful. God is looking for people to return into a right relationship with God. Forgiveness is available to the people who will humble themselves, admit where they have gone wrong, and change. In fact, that is all that God is asking for. The warning, itself, is a plea for people to repent and change.

Each of us have not been as faithful to God as we ought to be. Each one of us falls short of God’s glorious standard. God does not want destruction to fall upon us, but wants us to live life and live it abundantly; however, our arrogance, pride, unfaithfulness bears fruit that is counter to what God wants for us and the consequences are on us, not God. This isn’t just true individually but on us as a national people. Corruption, injustice, oppression, arrogance, deceitfulness and idolatry are everywhere in our nation and we, as a people, are being called to repent and to turn back to God. In Christ, through whom all things are possible, we can begin to reflect the honesty, justice, liberty, humility and right worship of God.gh

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“A man’s conscience, like a warning line on the highway, tells him what he shouldn’t do – but it does not keep him from doing it.” —Frank A. Clark

PRAYER

Lord, help me to humble myself so that I may see where I have strayed. I repent of such times and ask you to, in Christ, lead me back to you. Amen.

God’s People, part 20: Slaves

Read Exodus 2:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Amram married his father’s sister Jochebed, and she gave birth to his sons, Aaron and Moses. (Amram lived to be 137 years old.)” (Exodus‬ ‭6:20‬ ‭NLT)‬‬‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 20: Slaves. Wow, we’re up to part 20 in this series and we have just gotten out of Genesis and into the book of Exodus. Thus far, we have talked mostly about prominent people in the Jewish and Christian faiths. We’ve talked about Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Ishmael, Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, Jacob, Rachel, Leah, the eleven brothers who betrayed their youngest (at the time) brother, Judah, Tamar, and Joseph.

The ones of those who are not prominent are at least named and a little can be gathered about them; however, I would like this time for us to pause and reflect on a couple of unnamed people. These people were not a people of high status or prominence in life, and they certainly are not given too much mention in the Bible either. In fact, they are barely named slaves who serve only one purpose in the Scriptures: they are the parents of Moses.

We all know the story of Moses, a story that has been acted and reenacted time and time again over the years. From sweeping, classic, epics such as The Ten Commandments to animated musicals such as “The Prince of Egypt”, the story of Moses has been told in so many different ways. In fact, their names and backstory seem to be of little interest to the writer(s) of Exodus. They are not even mentioned until chapter 6, and are only mentioned their in order to connect Moses’ lineage to the tribe of Levi, who was one of the sons of Jacob. In essence, Moses’ parents were important because they connected this “prince of Egypt” to the Jewish people by birth.

But who were Amram and Jochebed? We simply do not know who they were, other than the fact that they were slaves in Egypt and that Jochebed was technically Amram’s aunt. They got married and had Miriam, Aaron, and Moses. We also know that Pharaoh had ordered that all male Hebrew children under the age of 2 be thrown into the Nile and drowned.

Jochebed, in an attempt to avoid her child being murdered in such a horrific way, but the baby Moses in a basket and floated him down the Nile river. Miriam, who was clearly older than Moses, was tasked with ensuring that her brother ended up in the care of the Pharoah’s daughter. This was a dangerous mission, no doubt, but one that she pulled off.

We have no clue what Amram thought of this, or what was going on in their heads, because nothing else is written about them. We can only imagine the horror of thinking their baby son would be drowned in the Nile. Amram lived to 137, according to the Biblical account, but we have no idea if he was alive at this point or not. He’s simply not mentioned and the Bible explicitly names Jochebed as the “woman” who took the action to save her son’s life.

While we do not know enough about these people to speculate on what their character flaws were (which is a running theme of this series), we can instead point to the way the story is told in order to find potential flaws in us. The story only “uses” Jochebed and Amram as a means to an end, namely, to show that Moses was Hebrew and of the tribe of Levi. That serves the dual purpose of showing Moses to be both a Hebrew and the “priest” (as the Levites were priests in ancient Judaism) who was worthy of delivering the Israelites out of bondgage and back into a proper relationship with God. Other than that, they were not considered important enough to the narrative to mention anything further about them.

How often do we do the same? How often do we idolize heroes in our midst, only to ignore the unnamed or barely named, disregarded, sufferers who raised and/or inspired those heroes up? How often do we ride the stories of success on the backs of the oppressed? How often do we focus on the few who rose to prominence (only because they are prominent), to the detriment of those of whom we deem unimportant? Let us not do that. Let us see all people through the eyes of God who created them. Let us view all human beings as both important and sacred.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“The Bible has been the Magna Carta of the poor and of the oppressed.” – Thomas Huxley

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see through reading the Scriptures that you are on the side of the oppressed and the downtrodden and align my heart with you so that I stand in solidarity with them. Amen.

God’s People, part 17: Tamar

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 17: Tamar. There are many strange stories in the Bible, perhaps one of those stories at the top of the list is the story of Tamar. There are many elements of the story that are strange, and many elements that get highlighted by antitheists and skeptics alike to prove that God is nothing more than a fairytale dreamt up by simple minded ancients seeking to explain why things happen the way they do. Yet, like all things, one must first understand the context first before one can leap ahead to any such conclusion.

Tamar, like all of the women we have looked at thus far, is a woman of her times. She was born into a highly patriarchal society that valued the men over the women. What’s more, a woman who could not (for whatever reason) produce heirs to the male lineage of the family, were of no use to the patriarchal family structure. On top of that, any woman who could not produce children was seen to be under God’s curse (since this was her “natural” function and reason of exisiting) and was considered a stain upon her marriage and a shame upon her family.

Tamar’s case was slightly different, because it wasn’t that she was barren and unable to have children; rather, it was that her husband died before she could conceive a child. In that day and age, if such circumstances happened, the woman was to sleep with the next oldest brother of the husband so that the woman could bear a child. This was not so much out of courtesy to the woman (for what woman would want to have sex with her husband’s brother in normal circumstances), but a courtesy to the deceased husband who would not be able to have an heir of his own.

So, Tamar was married off to Onan, the second oldest brother; however, Onan didn’t want Tamar to have his brother Er’s children, he wanted his own kids. So he performed what is known as coitus interruptus or, as people know it today, the “pull out” method of birth control. In other words, he was having sex with his brother’s wife but “pulling out” before he could ejaculate and impregnate her (too much information, I know). The Bible says that, for doing this, Onan was seen as being wicked in the judgment of God and died prematurely.

Good news for Tamar, right? Wrong. Judah (the same Judah who was involved in selling his brother Joseph off as a slave) refused to have Tamar married off to his youngest son, for he saw her as being under God’s curse. In other words, rather than seeing his sons for what they were, namely wicked in God’s sight, he instead placed the blame on Tamar who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Tamar was told to go back to her parents home (which would have brought her “shame” upon them) and to wait until the youngest brother could marry her; however, as was indicated above, Judah had no intentions of ever letting his youngest marry this woman.

Tamar waited and waited, but Judah’s youngest son Shelah never came calling. This is when Tamar took things into her own hands. Knowing that Judah was recently widowed himself, she disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, who did not recognize her because she was not wearing her “widow’s clothes” that allowed men to know she had been married and also had herself veiled. When he called upon her “services”, she slept with him and conceived a child by him, thus eliminating her shame.

The question here for us is, why did Tamar have to prostitute herself out in order to have children? Was this fair, or right, or just? Prostitution is obviously sinful because it is the selling of sex, which is sacred, to make a profit out of giving another physical pleasure and because it exploits human beings and uses them as a means to an end (e.g. sexual pleasure). Yet, what about Judah’s sin? What about the sin of discarding a human being as worthless? What about the sin of patriarchy, which values one sex over the other? As can be seen in this story, God does not stand for such injustice and Tamar is the one who is honored by God, while Judah is the one who is ashamed.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In the face of patriarchy, it is a brave act indeed for both men and women to embrace, rather than shame or attempt to eradicate, the feminine.” – Alanis Morissette 

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be upright and just, not valuing anyone more than another for any reason, whether it be their sex, their gender, their color, their creed or any other thing. Amen.

God’s People, part 10: Rebekah

Read Genesis 24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Isaac loved Esau because he enjoyed eating the wild game Esau brought home, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis‬ ‭25:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬)‬‬

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly are like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 10, Rebekah. Being a woman in the ancient world was certainly not easy, and Rebekah found no exception in her life. Unlike a man, she didn’t have claim to anything that was her father’s. She was not an heir to her family’s fortune. In fact, once she was married, lived her life, and died, people wouldn’t much remember anything about her aside from whose children she bore.

Speaking of marriage, she didn’t even have a choice as to whom she would be married to. That was prearranged with the father of Isaac, Abraham. The bride was not the center of the marriage ceremony, like she is today; rather, it was the groom who was. The woman was his means of carrying on his geneology through the patriarchal system. What’s more, the bride’s family had to pay a dowry, which usually included the giving of money or sale of property, to the groom’s family in order for the marriage to be acceptable.

Basically, the bride’s family had to sell the bride off, like a burden, to the groom’s family. That’s what women were considered in the ancient world. Their sole purpose was to bear children, preferrably male, for the groom and to keep the house. To fail to do so could not only result in divorce, but would be a disgrace to the entire family. This is the reality that Rebekah was born, raised, and married into. And as seems to be the pattern in these stories, she gets blamed for being barren; however, God intervenes.

Beyond that basic reality she lived in, she also was married to a man who was very much a scarred, broken, and imperfect man. The apple did not fall far from the tree when it come to Isaac. He was very much his father’s son, and so it is no wonder that he follows in his father’s footsteps and even makes many of his father’s mistakes. It is no wonder at all.

For instance, when traveling to foreign kingdoms, Isaac is just as cowardly as his father was. Fearing that he will be killed by a covetous king lusting after Isaac’s “beautfiul wife” (quite the man’s fantasy, right?), Isaac convinces Rebekah to say that she is his sister so that he can appease the king by giving her to him to have her as his sexual play-thing. Nice, right? That is exactly what Abraham did twice (at least) to his wife Sarah. Like father, like son.

So, it is no wonder that Rebekah shows a certain amount of contempt toward her husband. She, after all, bore him two twin boys. Esau was the oldest and Jacob was the youngest, by seconds. Still, in that world, the oldest (no matter how much older they were) was the heir to the father’s tribe and wealth. Esau, NOT JACOB, was the one with such a birthright.

Let’s not forget that both Esau and Jacob were Rebekah’s children; however, it should be no surprise that Rebekah’s favorite was her younger son, the one whom everything had NOT been handed. Jacob, in many ways, was like her. He had no right over his father’s things. He was left to get the scraps. He was stuck with the leftovers. He was to be his brother’s servant, not the other way around. Well, Rachel would see to it that the other way around became the ultimate reality. According to the story, she received divine confirmation from God that “the oldest of her children would serve the youngest.” Rebekah saw to it that the divine revelation became a reality.

She encouraged her son to put animal hair on his arms, and to disguise himself so that his ailing father (who could not see) would think that he was his hairy, burly brother Esau. In doing so, Jacob was able to get his father’s blessing and steal Esau’s birthright away from him. It may have been spiteful on Rebekah’s part, but she seemed perfectly fine with the result.

Have you ever acted in spite as a result of your circumstances? I know that I have. There are times that I know I shouldn’t do something, that what I am doing is wrong and sinful, but I still do it in spite of that knowledge because I am upset at the way things have played out. Of course, that is sinful behavior; however, God forgives us when we seek such forgiveness and God blesses us despite our sins when we seek to change and do what is right. God’s people are certainly not perfect, but they are being perfected in God’s love.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Even in the midst of our sin, God’s ultimate plan prevails.

PRAYER

Lord, I acknowledge that in my hurt and suffering, I have sinned. Please forgive me and work your plan in and through me. Amen.

Vehement Prayer

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:27-28 NRSV)

BesideTheRiversOfBabylon_VehementPrayer2This is an incredibly hard text to deal with. I mean, what can be possible said to justify the words that we’ve just read. What can possible be said to defend the horrifying imagery that the psalmist has forever etched into our heads? What can possibly justify the killing of innocent babies and/or children? Why would that even be in the Bible? What constructive good could possibly come for such atrocious and violent rhetoric? What’s more, what can I possibly say about this text that will transform it into something relevant for our lives in today’s time?

First, I always think it is important to understand the historical context of the text before trying to understand the text itself. We are blessed with this Psalm because it actually dates itself, which gives us a really good place to start in understanding what was going on there. The psalmist opens the Psalm in the following way: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1 NRSV). So we know where this Psalm takes place, “beside the rivers of Babylon”, which means that the Psalm was written by a Jew within Babylon.

What this ultimately means is that this is a Psalm that comes out of the Exilic Period in Jewish history. This period happened in three waves between 605 BCE and 538 BCE. The Exile of the Jews lasted until the Persian king, Cyrus II, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland following the Persian takeover of Babylon a year earlier in October of 539 BCE. (NOTE: Before Common Era (BCE) years count backwards.) This means that the Psalm had to be written sometime between 605 and 539 BCE.

The dating of this Psalm is further evidenced by the fact that the psalmist is “remembering Zion, implying that it was laid to waste. What that means is that this psalmist was among those taken captive back to Babylon during the third exilic wave (July or August of 587 BCE), following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon. Let’s put this into perspective. When Babylon came in and seiged Jerusalem for the third time (due to Judah rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar), they were made a bloody example of for anyone else who would dare challenge and conspire against the Babylonian Empire who they were previously conquered by and subject to.

So, to be precise, at the time of the Babylonian attack on Judah, there was an estimated population of 75,000 people living in Judah, and Jerusalem was probably much of that population being that it was the main city. Of that population, 20,000 people were deported and brought back to Babylon in exile. That’s over 25% of the population. Now, we all remember what happened on 9/11, just imagine if, on top of the attacks, 25% of all Americans were taken to another country to live.

Just put that into perspective of how horrifying, how awful, and how humiliating that must have been. Twenty-five percent! The remaining 75% were either dead, or were left in Judah to watch their countryside, villages, and the city of Jerusalem smolder, literally. Jerusalem itself, destroyed and depopulated, lay largely in ruins for the next 150 years. Many of their men, women and children were dead, the rest exiled to a foreign land or left to rot in a smoldering land, and they were the utter and absolute laughing stock of an empire.

This psalmist is letting out his or her violent reaction, and getting it out in the open, and that is perfectly okay. Does God condone violence, or dashing infants’ heads on stone? No, I do not believe that God does. Nor does this psalmist even claim that God states that. The violence in this psalm is really a vehement prayer of anguish to God and God does understand the wounded heart of the anguished psalmist and of all people who suffer injustice and pain. God not only understands the oppressed, but stands in solidarity with them, working to bring about justice to those who are suffering under the weight of evil.

It is important for us to know that it is okay if we cry out vehemently to God when we are desperate for justice, for God knows our pain and is working to bring about justice in our situations and in the world. What’s more, we are also challenged to check to see where our own allegiances lie. Are we standing in solidarity with the oppressed, just as God is, or are we among the oppressors who are adding insult to injury? In the end, justice ALWAYS prevails. It did eventually in Babylon, and it will in our world too. Evaluate yourself. Which side are you on?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is the tearing open of your rib cage so that your heart can breathe.” – Rob Bell
PRAYER
Lord, hear my own vehement prayers anguish and also lead me to become an answered prayer for those who suffer. Amen.

THE CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO, Part 8: Oppressed

Read Luke 4:13-21

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Don’t be surprised if you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and if justice is being miscarried throughout the land. For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice get lost in red tape and bureaucracy.” (Ecclesiastes 5:8)

oppression11Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.

Part 8: Oppressed. In our world, it is so very easy to see oppression just about everywhere we turn. We don’t even have to look far or wide. We merely, have to turn on the news to see oppression spill forward into our homes. Stories of people killing others because they are of a different creed, tribe, race, or all of the above. People enslaving women and children and subjegating them to all sorts of horrific and oppressive conditions. Perhaps we know of people who are in abusive relationships who, in the context of such abuse, are subjected to an oppressive living environment. Sadly, some have even found the church to be a place of oppression and subjegation.

The truth is that, no matter where we are, if there are people congregated and organized, there is bound to be oppression in one way or the other. Oppression happens when one who is in a position of power lords it over those over whom they are in power. In other words, oppression happens when power is misused and abused. Whether it be in the work enviornment, in a domestic situation, in schools, in churches, in governments, or wherever it is occuring, oppression always involves an abuse of power. You know the phrase, “absolute power corrups absolutely”; too often, good people corrupted by power become monsters and demons.

With that said, oppression is pernicious. It does not go away once the oppressor is removed; rather, oppression begets more oppression. Often times, the oppressed end up becoming the oppressor. Having risen out of being oppressed, the victim seeks to put themselves into a place of power so as to never fall victim to the abuse they endured in the past. Other times, the victim acts in an oppressive manner because it is learned behavior and it is all they have ever known, What ever the case, be it self-preservation or ignorance, the oppressed will often morph into the oppressor and the ugly, nasty cycle will continue.

Most, if not all, of us have been on both sides of the oppressed/oppressor divide. We’ve all, no doubt, been in situations where we have been abused or where power had been lorded over us in a way that made us feel week, vulnerable, threatened, and trapped. With that said, there are times (even if seemingly minor) that we have been of abusing the power that we have over others. Perhaps in our familial relationships, or in our professional relationships, or in friendships, or in our communities. The point of this is not to point the finger, but to spark a new and more wholesome self-awareness so that we can move forward from where we are to where God is calling us to be. As can be seen in the Christian Manifesto, Christ was anointed by God to set the oppressed free, which means that Christ has both set you free from being oppressed as well as from the oppression of being the oppressor. What’s more, just as Christ has begun the work of freeing the oppressed, so too we Christians are called to carry on the work of eliminating oppression and injustice from our homes, from our communities, from our world and from our midst. The task is set before you as surely as Christ is with you. Amen.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
PRAYER
Lord, end all oppression and make me a part of the solution and reconciliation process. Amen.

 

The Prophet’s Call

Read Amos 5:11-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Those who exploit the powerless anger their maker, while those who are kind to the poor honor God.” (Proverbs 14:31 CEB)

US-Pope-Francis-Congress.JPTwo weeks ago, America was tuned into the 24 hour news cycle. It wasn’t because of some nefarious criminal, or some horrendous crime. It wasn’t because some celebrity was getting married or that some other celebrity was getting divorced. There were no major scandals, and for the first time in I am not sure how long, the news wasn’t very negative at all. Why was this? Because Pope Francis I was visiting the United States of America for the very first time. He started off in Washington D.C., headed from there to New York City, and finally ended up in Philadelphia. The news, and the country, could not get enough of it!

With that said, not ALL of the news was positive. All of the commentators seemed happy that the Pope was here and they were praising him and his papacy; however, with that said, some commentators objected to some of Pope Francis’s stances. Some disagreed with his stance on climate change, while others disagreed with his stance on capital punishment. Some were astounded that the Pope would come to the U.S.A and talk about the injustice found within the golden calf we call capitalism. Some were upset he interjected in our ongoing immigration debate.

“With all due respect to the Holy Father,” I heard one commentator state, “he really should stick with things of a religious nature and leave the politics to the politicians. He’s the head of the church, and while at the Vatican he is also the head of state, America is not a theocracy and he is out of his league speaking in politics here.” Some commentators opined that the Pope didn’t understand capitalism in American and that he only knew capitalism to be as it was in his country of Argentina: crony capitalism (as if that doesn’t exist here too).

Hearing all of the debates going back and forth made me question, was the Pope out of line for speaking out politically against things he felt were wrong, unjust and in need of change? Should a religious and/or spiritual leader simply keep to “religious” things and leave politics to the politicians? Of course the answer is both yes…and NO! Let me address “yes” first. If a religious leader is putting themselves out into the political sphere to garner political points or to receive political gain, then obviously that religious leader is acting inappropriately. If the religious leader is pushing an inherently political agenda for the purpose of getting a specific person elected, or to push his/her congregation to endorse a specific candidate, I will concede that the religious leader is in the wrong.

Yet, I object the claim that religious leaders should stick to religion and leave the politics to the politicians, because that inherently disregards what religion is and it denies the very station that religious leaders and prophets (Jesus included) have taken in society. You cannot divorce religion from politics, just because a religious leader’s message is inconvenient to one’s agenda. The fact is, if a society is acting unjustly, then it is the religious leaders duty to speak out against that injustice. That isn’t political…IT’S RELIGIOUS.

Religion literally means to reconnect or rejoin together. It is the reconnecting of our relationship with God and with our neighbors. It’s all about relationships. Therefore, if a society is in moral decline and/or if there is injustice and oppression within it, then it is counteracting the call of the Spirit to be in right relationship with God and neighbor. It is also hindering others from doing the same. It is a religious person’s duty, it is their obligation to speak out on those subjects no matter how inconvenient those truths might be. That can be done without naming people, without any hidden agenda and certainly without bashing or endorsing candidates; however, the faithful are called to stand up against oppression and injustice. As I see it, Pope Francis is leading the way. Don’t scoff, but join him in ending injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” – Amos, Jewish prophet (circa 750’s BC)

PRAYER
Lord, let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Strengthen me to speak your words of truth to the power. Amen.

Victims…Aren’t We All?

Read Revelation 3:1-6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (‭Jeremiah‬ ‭17‬:‭10‬ NLT)

movie-the-crow_00212772One of my favorite movies, on my endless list of movies, is a film called “The Crow.” It is starring Brandon Lee, who was the son of the ever-famous Bruce Lee, and it was his definitive role as an actor. The story is about a man who was murdered, along with his fiancée, on the eve of their wedding day. Exactly one year later, Eric Draven is resurrected by a mysterious crow who brings him back in order to exact revenge against his murderers. The first one he goes after is a man nicknamed, “Tin Tin.” He’s nicknamed that because his weapon of choice is a knife, and he’s really good at using them. When he runs into Tin Tin, he screams out, “Murderer”, and reminds “Tin Tin” of how he raped and killed his fiancée.

Tin Tin, of course, attacks the now ghostly Eric and comes at him  with his knives. He screams back at Eric, “Murder!?! Murder!?! Let me show you a little something about murder! It’s fun, it’s easy, and you’re gonna learn all about it!” Pulling you two of his blades, he mockingly says to Eric, “I’d like you to meet two friends of mine. We never miss.” But, as I am sure you can guess if you’ve never seen the film, Tin Tin does miss. Eric deflects one blade, and then the other. Tin Tin pulls out yet another blade and throws it at Eric who catches it and throws it back, hitting the gangster in the shoulder blade and tacking him to the wall. Tin tin, now broken, bleeding and frightened begins to breathe heavily and starts to moan in pain as Eric approaches him. Then, picking up one of Tin Tin’s other knives, Eric says sardonically, “Victims; aren’t we all?” and then kills Tin Tin.

While this is a violent scene, I think it also bears a lot of truth as well. How many times in our lives have we felt victimized by someone or something? I am sure each of us can come up with countless examples of the times that we have been victimized. Yet, if I were to ask you how many times you’ve victimized others, I bet it wouldn’t be as easy of a question to answer. We are often so good at playing the victim, and extra quick to overlook the times that we are the victimizer. Sometimes, like Eric, we start off as the victim only to become the victimizer.

This devotion is not being written to assume that you, the reader, have ever played the victim, or that you’ve victimized others, or something in between those two. Nor is it defining victimization in any other way than the broad definition of intentionally bringing harm to another’s body, mind, emotions, and/or spirit. I think it is safe to say that we’ve all been on both sides of the victimization spectrum. What I hope this devotion does is cause you to introspectively reflect on whether you are the VICTIM or the VICTIMIZER and, depending on your answer, what are going to do about it? If you are the victim, are you going to lash out at others and become the victimizer? If you are the victimizer, are you going to continue down the destructive path of bringing harm to others, regardless of your reason for doing it?

Remember, we’ve all been victims at one point or another; it is never okay to become the victimizer! Remember, God sees us for who we really are and calls us to repent and to believe in Christ’s Good News of hope, healing and wholeness. If we are truly victims, God will not fail us nor abandon us; rather, God stands in solidarity with those who are oppressed and downtrodden. God seeks to restore them to healing and wholeness. With that said, if we are the victimizers then it is time for us to humble ourselves and turn to God’s way of LOVE and PEACE. It is there that we will find reconciliation, restoration and renewal. Let those with eyes see, let those with ears hear, and let those with hearts be transformed by LOVE.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“When you’re the victim of the behavior, it’s black and white; when you’re the perpetrator, there are a million shades of gray.” – Dr. Laura Schlessinger

PRAYER
Lord, open my ears, my eyes and my heart and give me the insight to see myself for who I am, so that I may change where I need to. Amen.