Tag Archives: christianity

The Poor Will Always be with You

Over tea one day, a friend tells me a story about visiting a fiscally conservative Christian church. During the sermon at this particular church, the piece of scripture where Jesus says “the poor will always be with you” is used to support the argument that Christians really need not concern themselves with delivering charity to those who are economically disadvantaged because such charity would not effect a substantial change around the broader and ongoing issue of poverty.

My friend’s story reminds me how far we, as individuals, are capable of straying from the Grace of our shared humanity in an effort to protect, defend or uphold our sometimes selfish comforts, myopic philosophical positions or even personal idiosyncrasies.

Spirituality

When sacred scripture is taken out of context, misread or interpreted solely to support our comfortable social positions and views, it can cloud the very Light which binds us as One. (I would note here that such attitudes toward scriptural interpretation(s) are not unique to Christians, but that this phenomenon exists among peoples of a wide variety of religious and philosophical traditions, where individuals or select groups desire to safeguard certain of their habits, decisions and/or lifestyle traits.)

Looking at the larger context in which Jesus makes this statement about the poor, we learn that Jesus is receiving the gift of an anointing from a woman, who clearly wishes to honor Jesus’ work through her generous ritual, physical act.  The perfumed oil she uses on Jesus’ body is expensive. The disciples do not give voice to discontent regarding the act of anointing, but to the discontent they feel about the use of an expensive gift of perfume. From the disciples’ perspective, such an expensive commodity could have been resold; and, then, the money from that sale could have been used to alleviate suffering among the poor.

It is only after the woman and, indirectly, Jesus are admonished by the disciples that Jesus, in turn, admonishes the disciples themselves by stating, “Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.” [Mark 14: 3-9]

There are a great number of interpretive readings or lessons that might be derived from this piece of scripture.

Jesus may be reminding us that working for “social justice” is an ongoing task and that those doing this work need to take care of themselves—physically. (Remember that the anointing is not the issue here.)

In another interpretive reading, Jesus may be asking us to honor each other as individuals, because none of us knows how long we have on this earth, even as we concern ourselves with issues of deep social concern in our Grace-centered lives.

Another aspect of this narrative is Jesus’ reminder to receive gifts graciously and humbly from those who wish to give from the seat of their open and generous hearts, because God alone knows about the timing and leadings which precede an individual’s actions of compassionate generosity.

In the gospel according to Mark, Jesus concludes, “She hath done what she could: she is coming aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.  Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel is preached throughout the world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.”

God knows us by our mitzvahs.

Using the more complete scriptural context, the greater lesson may be that we, as individuals, will be remembered for the selfless acts of kindness we perform and that those outside of said acts should not judge them for being extravagant or out of place.

However this narrative in its various interpretations may speak to us on a given day or in a given moment, this reader cannot find anything in the text to support the idea that we should abandon caring for one another or that consistent, conscious and kind acts of charity should be denied to anyone–poor or not.

There will always be a need in this realm for social action which acknowledges the sacred nature of the physical frame, through which we may choose to serve the Light, and that of Grace which resides in each of our hearts.

See also Matthew 26: 6-13 and John 12: 2-8.

Spirituality & Virgin Birth

“You really believe that stuff?” a close friend of my husband’s, and now mine, asks me, with both incredulity and a solid dose of urbane, worldly disbelief.  “About the virgin birth and all?”  The second question is delivered almost as a challenge.  Then, with a virtually indescribable vocal gesture, “Bphweh,” the speaker, Mark, dismisses me, and the conversation turns away from issues of Christian theology.

I do not remember the details about how the topic of Christian theology came up, except that Mark, my husband and I had been discussing aspects of our unique childhoods.

Spirituality

We, my husband and myself, were on our second or third afternoon as guests in Mark’s home—one of our few stop-overs on our annually repeated cross-country trips.  Mark, a good friend and a supremely generous man, had opened his home yet again.  He allowed us to visit him whenever we were travelling, creating space in his overly full schedule, as well as granting us a freshly made bed in a private room, with kitchen privileges, in his equally full apartment—first for the two of us and, eventually, for three.

Normally, when I think about theology, I consider myself an “action girl,” someone who is more concerned about “right action”—to quote the Buddhists—than, say, the details of personal belief, a set of professed theological positions or, even, a specific faith tradition.  On that particular afternoon in Mark’s home, his emotive response to my having been raised as a Christian took me by surprise.

Yet, I had to acknowledge Mark’s response would probably have been consistent with the internal, gut-level responses of many of our academically-trained, international and more cosmopolitan friends.  I also considered the observed responses among the adults in the context of a working, progressive Christian community—the number of mildly raised eyebrows over certain aspects of Jesus’ narrative during New-Testament readings.  It was a case of M I R A C L E S, questions mark…  “Well, that was then and this is now,” is the attitude that came seeping through at church.  This attitude toward the “supernatural,” among adult members of the congregation (many of whom were also academics), seemed to propel church members even further along the road of taking concrete action toward the alleviation of social suffering in the community.  At least that is how things appeared to me, from my childhood perspective.

Because my upbringing taught me to focus on behavior and service, rather than the details of theology and personal belief, at the time of the conversational exchange between Mark and myself, I remained silent, choosing to ponder his questions for a few days and then move on.  And, in terms of my life focus and outlook, I was more than satisfied with this approach toward living.  Besides, why not accept and live in the Mystery?  Thus, the doors that Mark’s questions had opened on the details of Christian theology and my personal beliefs gently swung shut.

More than twenty years later, while reading the book, Jews in the Time of Jesus, by Stephen M. Wylen, I happened upon an interesting note on the issue of translating the word “maiden” from Hebrew into Greek.  Apparently, in Greek, there is no direct translation for a young woman without giving a report on her perceived sexual status—virginal or not.  Thus, Jesus’ mother moves from being the young woman, or maiden, of Hebrew prophesy, who will bear the Messiah, to a certified virgin in Greek texts.

Now, there have been 2,000 years of Church history, councils, factions, arguments, sides, positions and still no paternity test for the Holy Spirit.  Yet, arguably, by embracing the Mystery around Jesus’ conception and birth, readers of Jesus’ origin story may be made more free to focus on what some might consider the more critical teachings surrounding his birth.   The narratives associated with Jesus’ birth teach us—potentially—how better to respond or behave in relationship to our perceptions regarding Divine will (leadings of the Spirit, in Quaker tradition), toward one another and toward ourselves, as we choose to affirm Life.  ­­

According to the New Testament cannon, Mary, a humble young woman, is selected by the Divine to carry, raise, mother and stand by one of the world’s Teachers of The Way—for nominal Christians, The Teacher.  She extends her Trust to the Light–see Henry Ossawa Tanner’s depiction of this moment is poetically rendered in his painting, “The Annunciation”–accepting this assignment without knowing all that it will encompass.  She is acting on blind faith in a Higher Power.  She says, “Yes.”

Joseph also extends his Trust toward God, when he heeds the dream he is granted, counseling him to accept, safeguard and protect a young woman, whom he has never touched, and a child, not of his own “seed.”  This aspect of Jesus’ origin story reminds us to be attentive to our dreams of conscience,  affirm life and begs us to act as protectors of human life, whether or not those lives are of “our own” creation or whether or not those lives represent members of our bloodline.  Joseph is asked to affirm Life.  Additional possible messages?  We are all children of God.  We are all chosen.  We are all sacred.  Life is to be protected.

Saying, “Yes,” to a genuine leading of the Spirit (without the full support of community) can be one of the most terrifying and fulfilling things any pious person—from any religious tradition—can do.  If a leading affirms the sacred nature of All life, it is a directive from Grace, and we might choose to exercise our free-will and extend our personal Light by following either Mary’s or Joseph’s examples, and say, “Yes.”

The Greek-language rendering of Jesus’ origin story, with the inclusion of the concept of virgin birth, stands as a reminder that we are all called to be here, by Grace, and that there is something Pure in each of our hearts—something of the Light.  But, it is we who must attend to the gift of life, daily, to honor, nurture, grow and affirm our Light, if we are ever to open to God’s plans.

Abundance

Whether I am participating in a program among New-Thought (New-Age) circles or visiting a more conservative Christian pulpit, I bump up against the same interpretation and reasoning around the concept of abundance.  It sounds something like this.

Christian version:  If you embrace God’s will for your life, God will bless you with material prosperity.  (i.e. You will get rich.)

New-Thought version:  If you come into alignment with Universal principles, you will be able to manifest material wealth beyond your wildest dreams.   (i.e. You will get rich.)

Spirituality

To my Christian friends, I would say this:  When Jesus spoke of abundance, he was talking about honoring life, the Spirit of All life, with a shared respect and joie de vivre for our mutually unique positions in the Kingdom, because we are all part of the same Body.

Why not take a materialistic reading on the idea of Christian abundance?  When Jesus gathered his disciples, did he wait for anyone to pack a bag?  No.  He also exemplified the Eastern spiritual principle of non-attachment, where one gives freely and receives freely in accordance with Universal abundance.

Thus, those who are truly free and walking in their highest Light do not hold many personal belongings, but rely upon providing and being provided for by the Divine hand as need arises.  And, lest we forget, a materialistic reading on the issue of abundance leads us down the path of at least three of the classical Christianity’s Seven Deadly Sins:  greed, lust and gluttony.

To my New-Thought friends, I would say this:  If you come into alignment with Universal principles, your desire for personal, material wealth will dissolve and be supplanted by a sincere desire on the part of your cleansed, connected and unified heart to serve.

You will experience, more than anything, the desire to have energy to flow out of and around you instead of attempting to hold energy in and around  yourself by collecting more stuff.  (Material belongings really act as a means by which we attempt to uphold our notions of who we are in relationship to society or community.)

And, if “wealth” comes to you, you will want nothing more than to share it.  Thus, abundance will transform itself into generosity, one of classical Christianity’s Seven Virtues.

Abundance is about sharing what we have, our gifts, health, joy, good humor and abilities.