"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
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Don't Make Me Poor. Or Rich?
I was recently listening to a
podcast of a wonderful on-line daily prayer resource called "Pray
as You Go," and the day's reflection was on part of Proverbs
" ...give me neither
poverty nor riches,
me only my daily bread."
Can you imagine yourself praying
that prayer to God? Can you imagine sincerely, honestly praying,
"Dear God: please... please
give me neither poverty nor riches. Don't allow me to be poor, but don't allow
me to become rich, either. Please give me only what I need to get through this
It's a counter-cultural (and
counter-intuitive) thing to pray for.
Well, actually, only part of it is
counter-cultural: I'll bet most of us would be perfectly comfortable -
certainly more sincere! - praying the "please don't give me poverty"
part of the prayer. (I don't know too many people who pray on a daily basis for
poverty, do you?)
But listen to the author of
Proverbs tell us, in the next verse, WHY he's praying this prayer, and maybe
it'll make more sense:
[If I become rich] I may have
too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
Or [if I become poor] I may steal,
dishonor the name of my God.
Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases
this part of Proverbs in The
Give me enough food to live on,
neither too much nor too little.
If I'm too full, I might get independent,
saying, 'God? Who needs him?'
If I'm poor, I might steal
dishonor the name of my God."
That proverb was written thousands
of years ago, but what a timeless truth it conveys about human nature.
On the one hand, if we are too
hungry - too poor in life, we get desperate.
There's nothing wrong with
feelings of occasional hunger and there is nothing wrong with being poor, but
there is something wrong with being desperate, and chronic hunger, or a state
of poverty tends to breed desperation. And desperation is no way to live: it
makes us do things like lie, cheat, and steal that are contrary to our better
nature (or to put that in more explicit Christian language, it increases our
proclivity to sin.)
But on the other hand, if we are
too full - too rich - we may disown God: we "get independent."
There is nothing wrong with
feelings of occasional fullness, and there is nothing wrong with being rich, but
there is something wrong with forgetting our dependence on God, and chronic
fullness or a state of being rich tends to breed the illusion of independence:
it makes us lose the higher qualities of our human nature like empathy,
humility and service to others.
Or again to put that in more
explicit Christian language, it increases our proclivity to sin: except this
time the Sin is far more serious, because as C.S. Lewis reminded us, the sins
of the heart (pride, arrogance, cold-heartedness, judgmentalism, etc.) are far
more serious than the sins of the flesh (stealing).
And so - Proverbs reminds us - the
way forward...the way of avoiding either danger... is to pray what Jesus taught
us to pray, and that is for "our daily bread."
We're reminded to pray something
"God, give me enough. Not
less than enough because I don't want to fall into desperation.
But not more than enough, either,
because I want to remember my need for you, and my connection to others."
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…