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Are the poor “always with us”?

Brief commentary on a fatalistic reading of an ancient text

       My hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, recently ran an editorial arguing that poverty is not inevitable. The following was my response, printed as a letter to the editor.

        Wednesday’s AC-T editorial (“The cycle of poverty is not inevitable”) offers a compelling rebuttal to the notion that poverty is preordained. One reference, however, repeats a popular misreading of ancient authority: “Many who are not poor accept the biblical maxim that the poor will always be with us. . . .”

        The “maxim” in Deuteronomy 15:11 (referenced by Jesus, in three of the Gospels, for other purposes) is the premise for this conclusion: “I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy.’”

        In other words, the persistent scourge of poverty does not absolve us of responsibility but actually underscores our duty—because poverty is not a given in creation but the result human greed, i.e., the fracturing of covenant life. In fact, earlier in this same chapter, God promises, for those faithful to the covenant, that the day is coming when “there will be no one in need among you” (v. 4). Read more ›

Why Psalm 104:35 needs to be included in the reading for Pentecost Sunday (Year A)

 by Ken Sehested

        The lectionary suggestion of the psalm for the day (104:24-34—Pentecost, Year A) stops one verse short of its frightful ending. Verse 35 reads: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.”

        I’m guessing the lectioners stopped short for fear of ruffling genteel decorum and to maintain order and decency.

        To be sure, the psalmist’s imprecatory rage is processed in lament before God—and is no sanction for lethal vengeance, however just our intent. But as long as the assaults now raining in the streets of the meek never raise an ache in our bodies nor a bruise on our hearts, we will never know the urgency of the Advocate’s liberating word. Intercession implies a certain interposition. Read more ›

God, in Your Mercy

Lyrics by Brian Graves

// God, in your mercy, bind our wounds, renew our strength,

Hear our cry, hear our cry: heal the broken-hearted. //

// Like mother bird and tree of life, you have gathered and sheltered us,

Guided us, till we rise to spread our wings and fly. // Read more ›

Reflections on Changes in US-Cuba Relations

by Stan Hastey, guest columnist

Part One

       Growing up in Mexico as a missionary kid gave me a different perspective on my native land. Whether always welcomed or not, I could not help but filter my own early sense of patriotism through the lenses of classmates. Their take on the United States was that of the colossus to the North that had stolen a huge section of their country in an illegitimate war and given it a new name—Texas.

       When Fidel Castro and his revolutionary compatriots seized control of Cuba on January 1, 1959, I was 14. In Torreón, the city in northern Mexico where my family lived during my junior and senior high school years (except for 11th grade in 1960-1961 when I attended Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth) spontaneous street celebrations broke out. It would take me a good while longer to understand better why Mexicans took such glee in the triumph of the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and the other bearded firebrands on a Caribbean island most of them never dreamed of visiting.

       What the crowds in Torreón and countless other cities and towns throughout Latin America were cheering was that an apparently rag-tag bunch of indigenous dreamers had run off a military dictator put in power by the United States of America. (This brings to mind another bit of hubris that we U.S. citizens tend to have, that of referring to the USA as “America” as though we owned the entire continent. My school friends, by the way, liked to make the point that the formal name of their country is the “United States of Mexico.”) Read more ›

Chaos or community: Which way?

Advent commentary on grand jury findings

Ken Sehested. Posted 5 December 2014, commemorating Rosa Parks' historic bus ride.

Chaotic and kairotic are rhyming words that come to mind in these heavy laden days. The latter’s root word, kairos, means “opportune moment,” a pregnant occasion, with life promised but also danger lurking, an opening for truth amid founded fears of catastrophe—as in “apocalypse.”  But in the root word for apocalypse, the emphasis is on “uncovering” or “revealing” what has been hidden. Truth amid the rubble.

These surely are chaotic times, and we cringe at the destructive backlash threatening to rain down on urban and suburban streets. Within a week, police killings of unarmed black men are dismissed by grand juries in a St. Louis suburb and New York City—the latter case, of Eric Garner, by fatal chokehold caught on camera and ruled a homicide by the coroner.

Jon Stewart’s Daily Show opening comments on these cases were as sober as I’ve seen. “If comedy is tragedy plus time,” Stewart said, “I need more f•••king time.” Read more ›