Mennonite churches have been relatively successful at doing good for the most vulnerable in our society. Important work often seen as for our neighbours might include: building housing, serving meals, and sponsoring refugees. During a neighbourhood glowride my approach to good works began to change from doing for, to working with the most vulnerable. Before talking about that small but important distinction, I need to tell you about glowrides.
Prioritizing profit over the well-being of people seems like a bad idea, for businesses, for society at large, as well as for religious sects. Two stories contained in Acts chapter 19 remind us of this self-evident truth providing an economic lesson. Both concern religious sects that struggle against or outright oppose “the Way” as taught by Paul. My argument here is that each sect takes issue with Paul following his advice would mean that they could no longer enrich themselves at the expense of others.
This post originally appeared on Westview Christian Fellowship’s blog and was adapted from a sermon.
Part 2: Mother Mary Revolutionary
Part 3: Saved by the Work of Christ’s Grandmothers
Female protagonists from ostracized communities is a common motif in the biblical canon, but often overlooked by interpreters. The narrator of the Book of Ruth is keen to remind us that the protagonist, Ruth, is one such woman, continually stressing her identity as an outsider: “So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab” (NRSV). The stress on Ruth’s identity as a Moabite is not accidental. Israelites generally didn’t have a lot of respect for these neighbours, in part due to the story of the Moabite founding father, Lot, who had incestrial relations with his daughters.
Despite all of this, the book of Ruth reminds us that, like Naomi, Boaz, and ultimately Israel, we too should seek redemption in the resilience of those who reside on the outskirts of our community. These outsiders offer us redemption, the opportunity for justice, and an insight into our own sin. Continue reading
It’s important to make two preambles before I begin. First, all the most interesting insights found below are taken from Amy-Jill Levine’s fantastic book Short Stories by Jesus. Second, this post is an attempt to deal with the parables as we think they were given by Jesus. In doing so, I avoid dealing with Luke’s interpretation, the way he relates them, in the voice of Christ, to repentance (more on this at the end). I want to be clear that this doesn’t imply that Luke’s interpretation and repentance are unimportant, but rather to do justice to both would require more space than a normal blog post allows.
Parables have a way of surprising us by inverting our expectations, forcing us in some cases to reconsider commonly held beliefs or to ask difficult ethical questions. Consider the parable of the “Three Little Pigs.” After two failed attempts, the wolf, in desperation, jumps down the third little pig’s chimney only to land in a cauldron of stew. Pig’s enjoying wolf stew is a surprising result (and in some ways disturbing). Similarly, when Christ told parables his aim was to provoke and disturb and it’s no coincidence that he uses parables to do so.
Luke presents a series of three parables: “The Lost Sheep”, “The Lost Coin”, and “The Lost Son”. All three parables follow a similar pattern: (1) a wealthy individual loses part of his or her wealth, (2) he or she finds the thing that was lost, and (3) its recovery is celebrated with a meal. These three parables follow the “rule of three” whereby the first two in the series set up the third. Again consider the parable of “The Three Little Pigs;” the first two pigs with their homes of straw and sticks set up the story of the third pig with his home of brick. Although the three parables in Luke are similar, the first two help explain the events of the third. To understand how Christ provokes his audience, than, it’s helpful not only to understand how the stories are similar but to also notice the details that make the third story unique. Below is each parable, with a consideration of the way in which Christ uses the story of “The Lost Son” to challenge expectations and ask difficult ethical questions. Continue reading
This last semester I’ve been involved in a reading group exploring Caputo’s new book, The Insistence of God, with Jim Olthuis, Author, philosopher, professor, and rollerblader. Last week, Dean, a fellow student who also has a blog and has written about our reading group (his blog is so good I encourage you to stop reading this and head over there), brought our attention to Caputo’s decision to focus on the topic of religion. Caputo gives two related reasons for focusing on religion, even though, according to him, he could just as easily focus on being and finitude. First, religion is more important and less obscure for American culture than being and finitude. Second, Caputo’s own embeddedness in this tradition provokes him to take up his heritage. This interesting (and on some levels disingenuous) rhetorical move, motivated me to think about chapter five without explicitly referencing religion. What does it look like when we remove religion from the discussion?
Perhaps we can have this conversation using an example from my childhood. Back then, I found myself in a context that encouraged competition and sport. This context both enabled and limited me. It limited me in the sense that it determined the perspective through which I saw the world, one full of winners and losers. As unhealthy as this perspective can be, it was a large influence on my choice to self-identify as an athlete. In addition to limiting self-understanding, my competitive social context afforded me the opportunity to learn how to play with others, to lead, and even on the rare occasion, to lose gracefully.
The finite nature of my historical perspective hid from me the “event” taking place in the name athlete. At the age of eighteen, I unexpectedly blew out my knee, an injury that forced me to see the world from a new perspective. The injury made me skeptical (or atheistic) of my own confessed identity. Although I had matured as an athlete, this identity did not fully contain the truth of who I was—past, present, and future. Dogmatically holding on to the name “athlete” would have been detrimental to my own development and a poor expression of self-love. Continue reading