Study Action Guide
by Eugenia Smith-Durland for Alternatives: working for simpler lifestyles through alternative celebrations
CONTENTSForeword to Second Edition
Procedure, Resources, Action Project
On Biblical Justice
Session 1: Taking a Closer Look (click here)
Session 2: The Matthew 25 Theme
Session 3: Christmas: For I Was Naked And You Clothed Me
Session 4: Valentine's Day: I Was in Prison And You Came to Me
Session 5: Easter: I Was Thirsty And You Gave Me to Drink
Session 6: Celebrating Death
Session 7: Independence Day: I Was a Stranger And You Welcomed Me
Session 8: Hallowe'en: I Was Sick And You Visited Me
Session 9: Thanksgiving: I Was Hungry And You Gave Me Food
Session 10: Weddings and Other Merriments
Session 11: The National Alternative Christmas Project
Readings, About Alternatives, About the Author, Back Cover Comments
GRAPHIC cover art (SEE Voluntary Simplicity in Other Graphics folder)
There is a spirit movement among the people of this land:
-Born of a restlessness of spirit which longs for more integrity between our spiritual and economic values;
-Born of a resentment that national and international issues, as well as the most personal aspects of our lives, are the objects of manipulation by a consumption-oriented society;
-Born of anger that our most sacred celebrations are spiritually bankrupt, their meanings prostituted by the notion that the only vehicle for expressing joy, gratitude, love or sorrow is something purchased with money;
-Born of a sense of estrangement among families, friends and communities because the values of human relationships have been replaced by crass materialism.
-Born of a sense of alienation from the land, and a fear that our world is well on the way to committing ecological suicide;
-Born under the judgment that the precious limited resources of the earth have been exploited for the sake of a privileged few at the expense of the many without privileges;
-Born of the awareness that, in the final analysis, the schizophrenic attempt to serve two masters is impossible
As a response to that movement of the Spirit, Alternatives came into being in 1973. Shaped by, and helping to shape, the movement, Alternatives created an alternate celebrations campaign based on three simple ideas: 1) freeing our special celebrations from mechanical and materialistic considerations; 2) restoring the original meaning of the celebrations; and 3) discovering ways to celebrate so that these events become life-supporting, earth-supporting and justice supporting.
Changing our celebrations is not the end, but the beginning! As our manner of celebrating both symbolizes and embodies our lifestyles, changing the ways we celebrate can be the beginning for changing those lifestyles. Indeed, the development of personal, family and institutional lifestyles characterized by doing justice, respecting the environment and caring for one another is what Alternatives is all about. That is what this book is about!
Probing the Bible for direction on contemporary celebrations, simpler lifestyles and justice, Eugenia Smith-Durland prepared The VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY STUDY/ACTION GUIDE. This is not a book to sit down and read, but a ten-session guide for study and action. It is for a group of people committed to review together their celebrations and the priorities in their lives under the light of a careful study of the Bible.
First published by Alternatives in 1978, VOLUNTARY SIMPLICITY has gone through its second printing. In this second edition the text has been updated as has the "List of Recommended Readings." Included in this edition is a description of the objectives of Alternatives and the kinds of resources we can make available to you. New also to this edition is a listing (at the bottom) of several denominational lifestyle resource offices. If you want to find out more about the resources your denomination has available on lifestyle concerns and do not find that denomination listed, ask your pastor or write to us and we will try to help you find out.
If you form a study/action group please let us know what and how you are doing. We want to stay in touch with you.
Milo Thornberry, Director, Alternatives
We live in a world in which humanity is tragically divided into a rich minority and a poor majority. In the United States, the richest nation in the world, there are areas devastated by poverty and hunger. In urban ghettos and on skid rows, among rural sharecroppers and migrant farm workers, material poverty is a fact of life. And among the other nations of the world, the economic division between the developed West and the developing Third World is more distinct ... statistics on world poverty and hunger abound but their significance is easily lost in their magnitude. The cold statistic that two-thirds of all deaths recorded each year in the world are due to hunger or problems arising from hunger is perhaps more comprehensible in an its human tragedy. This distribution of the world's goods does not abate, for whether it is within nations or between nations, the clearest economic trend in the world today is this: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. 1
This program is designed for use by small groups of committed Christians. Because their lives have been changed by Jesus, Christians are ready to change their lifestyles, and in so doing to change their impact on the world around them. Our focus will be on celebrations and holidays because in them we tend to express most fully our values and priorities. The patterns of our celebrations reflect the patterns of our daily lives. As Christians we should recognize that the patterns of our daily lives will inevitably express-or fail to express-our faithfulness as people of God and disciples of Jesus.
"In the habits, actions, and relationships that characterize our lives we are to 'walk in love, as Christ loved us.' (Ephes. 5:2). In a faithful lifestyle we 'always seek to do good to one another and to all.' (Thess. 5:15) 2
So here we will undertake to study celebrating in many lights. We will consider the predicament of an overcrowded and overexploited earth. We will consider the distressed children of God who are unable to acquire the necessities of a reasonable life, whether those necessities be material or spiritual. And we will consider the ways in which the lifestyles in general and the celebrations in particular of rich American Christians may be directly contributing to these problems. What we will try to do is to connect the power of celebrations to the life of our world today. This will necessitate rediscovering what the celebration was all about in the first place. What was its original root meaning and purpose? A second step will be to apply the spirit of that root meaning to the way we live and celebrate and relate to our society. It is up to us to "breathe life into these events so that their power is released through us to overcome conditions which keep the human family unliberated, unfree, and unfulfilled. Otherwise our celebrations are only skeletons out of the past which we haul out of the closet once a year to satisfy our memories." 3
We will undertake what should be the joyful task of creating new celebration patterns which will lead us to new patterns of daily living. We will intend our new patterns to be life-supporting for others, life-enhancing for ourselves and, above all, demonstrative of our devotion to the way of Jesus. The song says, "They'll know we are Christians by our love. . . ." But, as Jesus recognized, our Christian love is easily covered or extinguished as by a bushel, (Mk. 4:21, Mt. 5:15, Lk. 11:33). And that bushel is very frequently composed of extensive possessions, upside-down priorities and unnecessary fears.
This study-action program is intended to provide those who undertake it with a springboard for revolutionized lives .4 The revolution will certainly be joyful, but it will also be difficult. For that reason it is expected that those who undertake the study will be serious enough to make a commitment of their intentions. The commitment can be one of the group's own design binding the participants to each other and to the study. A suggested model might include the following points:
1. To be committed to the study-action program for the duration of its existence. To attend all sessions except when absence is absolutely unavoidable. To do all assigned reading and study prior to the session for which it is assigned. To cooperate fully with all actions agreed upon by consensus in the group.
2. To function as a support community enabling and encouraging each other through the complexities, frustrations and adventures of the task at hand.
3. To be ready to hear disturbing and discomforting news about some of our most cherished habits and institutions. To respond actively and hopefully with every expectation that we can and will make basic changes in our lives and that these changes will uncover the light of our Christian love.
Ideally, the group should consist of from seven to fourteen adults with a good mixture of age, marital status, etc. Leadership and coordination is essential for the smooth running of the seminar, but it is strongly suggested that leadership functions be shared throughout the membership. Perhaps, after the initial organization takes place, members will share leadership responsibilities for subsequent sessions.
It is suggested that someone should serve as a group coordinator for the duration of the study program. The coordinator's role would be to stay "on top" of the whole project. The coordinator, therefore, would have to be someone who is well acquainted with the plan, the design, the direction and the requirements of this study, so that he or she can explain them to others and can make sure the sessions run smoothly. The coordinator's job would necessarily include making sure that all resource materials are available and that leadership and other functions are assigned from week to week.
For the group to function well in the context of this commitment, the participants will need to become well acquainted and enjoy times of relaxed fellowship. So the group should design some time for fellowship and relaxation which is not included in the plan for each study session. Perhaps you would decide to meet each week (either in each others' homes or at the church) for a simple pot-luck supper. You could experiment with inexpensive and vegetarian cooking. Afterwards the study session would take place. Or, the eleven sessions can be conducted as strictly business with o a 10 or 15 minute "light and lively" break sometime in the middle of the evening. If this is done, it is strongly recommended that two or three "fellowship" meetings be scheduled during the course of the program. These can be pot-luck suppers as described above, including all members of the participants' families who are interested. Or, depending on the time of year, they could be picnics (in summer), outdoor clean-up parties in a local park (in fail) or sharing-skills craft parties for gift making (prior to Christmas). Fellowship meetings could take many forms, but an attempt should be made to keep their theme and direction compatible with the overall goals of the program.
Most groups will find it helpful to have an "organizational" meeting prior to the start of the actual study sessions. The purpose of such a meeting would be to deal with procedural questions. What process will be used for making reading materials available and for assuring that reading assignments are done? What procedure should be used for distributing leadership functions? Should this study guide be used "as is" or would this group like to rearrange the order of some of the sessions? These, and other questions will arise and need to be considered by the group as a whole before the study begins. During this meeting, it will also be helpful to review the general plan of the study sessions as they are set up in this guide. There is no reason why the study session plans need to be rigidly followed. But if changes are made, they should be done thoughtfully and with the particular needs of your group in mind.
Following is a general review of the study session plans. There are eleven sessions. The first two are designed to acquaint the participants with the problems to be considered and the methods and goals of the study-action program. The next eight sessions are devoted to specific celebration occasions and are presented in this order: Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Funerals, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Weddings and other occasions. The final session will direct the group's attention to what their ongoing response might be.
Each session is set up in roughly the same way:
I Opening: About 5 minutes should be allowed for the opening. A short prayer or meditation is provided for each session. Decide whether you want to read these aloud, in unison, or would prefer some other approach. It is suggested that time also be allowed for silent prayers or spontaneous intercessions.
II Sharing: In most cases it is recommended that sharing time not exceed 30 minutes. But, as the study progresses and more crucial matters are dealt with here, you may find it necessary to extend this amount of time. A suggested plan for the use of the sharing time is designated *in sessions one and two. After that, it is expected that this time would be used primarily for reporting on the actions done between study sessions. As these actions and the decisions attached to them become more complex this time allowance may need to be expanded.
III Objectives: 30 minutes is the recommended time for this segment, also. This item consists of a statement of the ideas and objectives for the topic at hand. It will be of central importance for all participants to read this material prior to the meeting. In the organizational meeting, decide how the discussion of this material should be handled. In most cases, a group review of its contents with some time for clarifying questions and discussion should be sufficient.
IV Bible Study: In most cases it is expected that this item will take 45 minutes to I hour. Here, too, the group should decide ahead of time how they wish to handle this segment. It is strongly recommended that the designated Bible passages be read aloud. You may even want to have someone read aloud the guide's comments on the passages. Certainly, these comments and the Bible passages should be studied by everyone prior to the sessions so that the discussion will be lively and fruitful. The guide provides some questions and discussion-starters. The group should feel free to move beyond these with their own questions when they arise.
V Alternatives: After the Bible study each of the session plans on holidays and celebration occasions (number 3-10) includes some suggestions for alternate celebrations and some "actions suggestions." Allow about 30 minutes to discuss these suggestions, adding your own whenever possible and arriving at some conclusions as to the relative value of the suggestions for your situation. This discussion should result directly in the selection of actions to be taken before the following session. The findings and results of those actions will constitute the "sharing time" for the following session.
VI Closing: Again, a prayer or meditation is provided. As with the opening, allow about 5 minutes for a devotional closing. Before disbanding be sure to assign leadership for the following meeting. Also, be sure that everyone understands what materials they should read and study before the next session.
The time divisions and the procedural suggestions given here are just that--suggestions. The main purpose of a preliminary organizational meeting should be for the group to discuss these suggestions and feel free to accept only those with which you are comfortable. It is important, however, to decide upon a detailed plan of procedure, which everyone likes and agrees to and then be consistent about its use.
A Bible will be the most important single resource for the study. Each member must bring a Bible to every meeting. Any Bible will do, but it is suggested that a good modern translation rather than a paraphrase be used.
In addition to copies of this guide, each participating member should also have a copy of the most recent edition of the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue to use as a companion to the study process. Alternatives gives a 20% discount to non-profit and church groups when ordering 5 or more copies of the Alternatives Celebrations Catalogues.
Two books, Enough is Enough by John V. Taylor (Augsburg, 1977) and No More Plastic Jesus by Adam Daniel Finnerty (Orbis Books, 1977) are of particular significance to this study. It is strongly recommended that these books be obtained for the use of the group since some of the study will be based directly on readings from them. It is urged that a regular process for sharing copies be worked out. One possibility would be to set aside time for reporting during the sessions so that those who have books accept the responsibility for sharing the assigned readings in oral reports. Look upon this as a problem of resources. The challenge is to discover a way to make limited resources available and useful to all!
2002 note: If you cannot find a copy of these books in your local public or seminary library, try interlibrary loan. Or contact Alternatives. We are eager to hear your suggestions.
The Action Project:
Finally, note that this is called a study-action program. Study needs to be combined with action in order to avoid simply taking a "head trip" with these concerns. The real key is that commitment to changed lifestyles and new directions be solidified while the group is together, encouraging and supporting each other. Certainly, action can take many forms. The group, at its inception, should understand that they are free to create their own action project or projects if the one suggested here does not seem meaningful or valuable.
As has already been indicated, the group will have at its disposal copies of the most recent edition of the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue. A most appropriate action project might be to prepare a Local Supplement to the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue. If taken seriously and done thoroughly, this could be extremely fruitful. Such a project should serve to allow group members to become thoroughly familiar with needs that can be met and resources that can be tapped within their own community. The process of investigation and preparation should provide good fun and ample opportunity for community building within the group. It should also provide a vehicle for coordinating all the things the group is learning about both alternative celebrations and meaningful Christian service. When put together and reproduced, the Supplement would be a valuable tool for use in any local alternative celebrations or simple living campaign. Some suggestions:
1. Divide the study-action group members into committees. Committee size would, of course, depend on the size of the whole group. Each committee would probably consist of two or three people.
2. Allow each committee to choose a field of interest such as food, gifts and gift making, local self-help craft groups or home industries, local human development or people-helping agencies, alternate lifestyle, etc.
3. Following the format of the Catalogue, or devising one of your own, investigate your local scene for all aspects of alternative celebrations and new directions as you proceed through the study-action sessions. Report findings weekly during the sharing period. Each study-action session will contain suggestions as to what aspects to pursue with respect to the subject at hand.
4. One committee may want to take responsibility for gathering together, organizing and editing the findings of all the others so that the Local Supplement can be produced and made available, along with the Catalogue, to the whole community.
The first chapter of Genesis tells us of the very first celebration--God's celebration of creation. God made the world and everything in it. God was pleased and found it good. Then God transferred the care and custody of this handiwork in a its wonder and beauty to Adam and Eve. So, in the creation story, we have all the ingredients of celebration as we best understand it--hand crafting, joy, wonder, satisfaction, companionship and gift giving.
God gave humankind the whole world and all the living things it contains. But it was not enough, and the man and the woman sought to have more than they were given for the satisfaction of their needs and for their enjoyment of a good fife. We all know what happened next. They ate the forbidden fruit and sin was born. The Bible tens us that the fruit came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). So the Fall is often equated with a loss of moral innocence. But, as we embark upon this study we must not lose sight of the truth that it was an acquisitive step on the part of Adam and Eve--a reaching out and taking that which was not theirs and which they did not need which brought about the Fall. The resulting loss of innocence--or sin often takes the form of human efforts to be self-sufficient and independent of God.
This is equally true in our world. Christians still insist on repeating this step. We reach for what we don't need and in doing so we take what isn't rightfully ours. Acquiring what isn't ours deprives others of what they need. This is the root of the problem as it manifests itself in our personal lives. To begin to understand the extent of the problem and the nature of the forces with which we must contend, let's look at a statement of Adam Finnerty in his book No More Plastic Jesus.
It has become common for those of us in the rich world to be told how well we live and to have our affluence contrasted with the plight of the world's poor. Television shows babies starving in Africa, the newspapers tell of horrible conditions in the overcrowded cities and shantytowns, magazines carrying heart-rending appeals to us to "adopt" a sad-eyed child. Behind so many of these portraits and appeals the message seems to be: "Look how well-off you are and how miserable it is for others. Why don't you give a little from your surplus to help these people?" In other words, it is an appeal to be charitable. It is based, it seems, on an assumption that there is nothing basically wrong with our lifestyle except that others cannot share it. One day, we are led to believe, the whole world may be able to enjoy a lifestyle like ours-provided that we are a little more generous in our private and public aid and in sharing our technological and organizational expertise with others.
This outlook is dead wrong. There is something basically the matter with the lifestyle of the rich world, and most especially of the United States; and if we do not change it drastically and soon, we may take the world beyond the limits wherein human life can be supported. The simple fact is that the planet is rapidly becoming less capable of sustaining the present lifestyle of the rich, and if the rest of the world were somehow brought up to our levels of production and consumption, we would all together strip the earth of its resources in less than ten years. The theory of gradual development that has been pushed by the rich world upon the poor is largely a myth. In the thirty years since the development concept was launched, there has been no substantial improvement in the lot of the poor in those nations which have been the recipients of our aid, and within the present workings of the international economic system there never will be.
Unless there are some major changes in our global production and distribution system, the prognosis for our ailing world is bad: The rich will continue to get richer and the poor to get poorer-or, at best, the poor will stay the same. That is, in the short-range outlook. In the long-range outlook-say, thirty to a hundred years-the prospects for the rich minority are likewise dim, because without some major change in their economics, it appears likely that they will either pollute themselves and the rest of the world out of existence or diminish the earth's resources to such an extent that they themselves will become incapable of sustaining their lifestyle and begin to regress.
This assessment is not based on the speculations of a few wild-eyed environmentalists; it is a growing consensus of many of the world's leading scientists, educators, and planners. It is shared by many astute and forward-looking politicians, and by major industrialists as well. Their informed opinion is that we must begin without delay to redirect the thrust of our production system. If we do not, they warn, it may prove too late. 6
This is a sobering statement and one which lies at the very heart of our reason for undertaking this study. It's also a statement which could easily discourage us. After all, what can a handful of Christians do in the face of such awesome problems? The purpose of our study is to find out!
I was talking recently to a priest I know who pastors one of the poorest Catholic churches in one of the poorest ghettos in Philadelphia. He said that if, suddenly, all the money that is presently being spent on weapons and armies and prisons and all the other paraphernalia of institutional violence could be released and poured into the slums of this city-nothing would happen and nothing would change! That is, nothing would happen and nothing would change unless somehow human relationships could be changed first. His point is obvious. Redistribution is not enough. Ending the arms race and realigning our priorities is not enough. These things, if they could happen, would be of monumental importance. But without changed human relationships they would not ultimately matter. Without the attitude of radical, unguarded love which Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7; Lk. 6:17-45) all the social justice programs and all the political reorientation in the world won't accomplish the healing so sorely needed by the human race.
This is where Christianity comes in. It's at this point that we must begin to see that as Christians we have something unique to bring to the confrontation with these global problems. As Christians we have something special to say about how and why sensitive lifestyles are imperative for us. As Christians we should have our very own peculiar attitude toward celebrating fife, the world and each other'
What we have, of course, is the way taught us by Jesus Christ and the ethics and lifestyle of his Kingdom which he has invited us to begin using and sharing with others-even though the kingdoms of this world still maintain their power.
As we proceed with this study-action program we will be talking a lot about justice. Obviously, lack of justice is at the root of the world's problems and the achievement of justice is our goal. Therefore, before we go on we must look carefully at what the word "justice" means to us, what it means biblically.
Justice was defined by the Roman philosopher, Justinian, as "giving to each man his due." And to this day this is the common denominator of secular definitions of justice. One's due means that which one deserves, no more and no less. More or less than one's due would be unjust. We are familiar with what this means in most areas. In criminal justice it means that the punishment should "fit the crime." If a person murders another person, society and the law clamor for "justice" by execution or at least fife imprisonment. Death, or a life spent in prison, is seen as the punishment that "fits" the capital crime. It is "deserved" and so it is the criminal's due. This is called retributive justice.
A second type of justice is commutative justice or the justice of transactions. A good example is a contract between two persons. A contract is not "just" in this sense unless the giver gets something in return. It would not be just to sell your house for nothing. It is just to get what it's worth.
A third type of justice is distributive. Distributive justice is social justice between peoples, groups and nations. This justice says that each person in society should share all the benefits and burdens of society equally. Distributive justice includes the rights and duties pertaining to taxes, medical services, educational opportunities, economic goals and access to resources and goods, regardless of factors like race, nationality or religion. As practiced in the secular world, distributive justice includes elements of retributive and commutative justice, because it requires that goods and services be distributed only to those who in some way "earn" or "deserve" them and then only for a "fair" return. A good example would be the situation existing between the people of the United States and the people living in the third world. Distributive justice requires that the world's goods be equally distributed regardless of such prejudicial classifications as race, nationality or wealth, as long as they are considered due, and with no notion of compensation for past injustices. It's important to note, at this point, that secular justice is inclined to see things in terms of equality-equal distribution, equal commutation, even equal retribution. Also, secular justice is inclined to judge one's "due" in terms of current social values-one "deserves" only if one conforms to majority standards. Secular justice, then, is motivated by an attitude of desert, much like the attitude of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Lk. 15:25-30).
Biblical justice incorporates this minimum which secular justice provides but it goes much further and is far more profound in its meaning. It agrees that each person should be given his or her due, but disagrees that he or she should be given only what's due. The Old Testament model more closely resembles secular justice, especially where retribution is concerned. The Old Testament called for "an eye for an eye" but the New Testament summons us to loving nonresistance (Lev. 24:20, Deut. 14:2 1, Mt. 5:3 8-48). The Old Testament saw the neighbor as only the fellow-Israelite (Deut. 17:15). So commutative justice was not usually extended to outsiders but only to those neighbors or brothers and sisters (Lev. 22:11, 19:17; Deut. 15:12-18). The ancient Jews, however, were far advanced in distributive justice. They gave to the poor because they understood that the poor were God's special concern and not because they did or didn't deserve it. God's command was enough to convince them that the poor should be cared for regardless of how they got that way or what they might or might not give in return (Deut. 15: 1 -11; Lev. 25:35; Prov. 19:17; Ps. 140:12). In the same manner, they responded to the strangers and foreigners in their midst (Deut. 10: 18-19; Lev. 19:34; Ex. 23:9).
Jesus enlarged upon this concept of Old Testament justice and completed it. His teachings ask that we make a radical departure from the ideas of desert and return. We are not to resist the evildoer (Mt. 5:38-39). Our neighbors are not only those we understand and approve of, but all of humankind (Lk. 10:25-37). We cannot judge the sins of others except in the context of our own sinfulness (Mt. 7:1-5; Jn. 8:7). We should give to whomever asks, not on the basis of "due" but on the basis of need, not from a motive of justice, but from a motive of love (Mt. 5:42; Lk. 6:35). Love envelops justice and expands and transforms it. It gives all that justice gives and pore (Mt. 20:1-15).
In the Old Testament there are two Hebrew words for justice, mishpat and tsedageh. Mishpat is equated with the legal or retributive justice we have been discussing and is frequently found in the Old Testament (cf. Ex. 20:22-23; 33; Josh. 24:25; Ex. 15:25; Deut. 4:1). Tsedageh means, more precisely, righteousness and refers not only to one's conduct but also to one's attitude. We are righteous before God when, for the love of God and neighbor, we minister to the poor, the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the prisoner, without expecting anything in return, without determining what is "deserved." This concept is far more radical than any meaning of secular justice.
Biblical justice, then, is concerned with equity rather than equality. It is righteousness. It requires us as Christians to give no less than one's due-certainly "the gentiles do as much" (Mt. 5:47)-but also to give much more. It requires as to love not only brothers (and sisters) and neighbors, but strangers and enemies as well. Above all, biblical justice is to do the works of mercy (Ezek. 18:5-9; Is. 58:6-7; Tobit 4:16; Prov. 25:21; Mt. 25:31-46). So, as we proceed through these study-action sessions, talking about doing justice or helping to bring about justice, we must bear in mind that it is this biblical concept of justice that is meant. Indeed, it is this biblical concept of justice that is the only one appropriate for Christians.
There are two things then which biblical people are called to do when they set out to work mercy, love and justice. Both have to do with the attitude in the heart of the doer. The first, as we have seen, is to have no thought of return, compensation or even gratitude for the love given. The second is to be willing to venture forward in the risk of making the first move. This last is one of the most radical and scary things taught by Jesus. When he instructs us in his way-not to resist the evildoer, to turn the other cheek, to give the cloak as well as the coat, to walk the extra mile-he leaves it at that. He doesn't caution us to negotiate first to see whether the other party is willing to respond in a similar fashion. Secular justice requires this kind of caution. Biblical justice deliberately moves beyond it.
Finally, biblical justice is that which Jesus means in Matthew 5:48 when he tells us simply and bluntly to "be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect." This saying frightens us because on its face it seems we are being commanded to God-like perfection. We must take the Bible and Jesus' teachings seriously. But we shouldn't panic-either about Jesus' hard sayings or about the seemingly impossible task of doing righteousness in a fallen world which looms before us. When we look at the context of Jesus' words, we see that what he is asking of us here is to refrain from discriminating against and making judgments about the objects of our compassion. Just as God pours out His blessings on the deserving and undeserving alike-we are asked to do the same. Still a tall order-certainly. But not impossible when undertaken with a light heart and in the loving and supporting context of Christian community.
That is why we are addressing ourselves to these massive problems and tasks as a committed group within a Christian congregation. And this is why we are focusing on celebrations. Not only does this way of righteous relationships seem frighteningly difficult at first-but all the things we have learned and will learn about hunger and scarcity and maldistribution and waste can be very depressing! If we are not to bog down in fear and depression we must hold fast to joy and hope. There can be no better way to keep before us the joy inherent in righteousness than to learn first to celebrate righteously!
Lighthearted we must be if we want to elude the manipulators and survive; but let us never forget the ruthlessness of those principalities and powers against which we fight. If the inevitable changes are to come about in our society voluntarily and without ghastly catastrophe, nothing will achieve them but a profound change of public opinion. Our Western malaise is one of attitudes, values and expectations rather than one of methods and systems. Yet, inasmuch as the systems often impose the attitudes, we have to defy them also; and this calls for a counter-culture of families and groups that cannot be conned or manipulated because they simply do not accept the accepted values or pursue the ambitions that are expected of them. We must try to live by the divine contrariness of Jesus. We need a rapidly increasing minority that is entirely counter-suggestible, a minority that calls the bluff of the trend-setters, is a dead loss to the advertising agencies and poor material for the careers advisers.... Our need is for men and women who are free with the freedom of Christ, free to ask the awkward questions that have occurred to no one else, and free to come up with startling answers that no one else has dared to give. 8
May your group become these men and women!
1. Michael deGregory, "Of Holy Poverty" Peace Education Supplement no. 2, published by the Catholic Peace Fellowship, 1974.
2. quoted from Covenant for Lifestyle Assessment by William E. Gibson (and Members of the Eco-Justice Task Force Centre for Religion, Ethics & Social Policy, Ithaca, New York), New York: United Presbyterian Program Agency, 1978.
3. quoted from material in "A Spring Celebration Packet" published by Alternatives. NO longer available.
4. Webster defines a revolution as a "complete change." And it is interesting to note that the biblical words for repent (Suv in the Hebrew, and Metanoia in the Greek) both mean "to turn around." When we talk about revolution in this guide we mean this "complete change" and "turning around" that the biblical writers meant. If we make a complete change and turn our lives around on more than a strictly "spiritual" level, the results could well be downright subversive given the current values of our society-so the word "revolution" is well chosen!
5. Read article in Catalogue describing how Charline Watts created a Local Catalogue Tabloid in the Cleveland, Ohio area.
6. Op. Cit., pp. 3-5.
7. The material in this section is based on work done by William R. Durland in No King But Jesus! Matthew 25 and the Biblical Basis of Christian Non-Violent Assistance, unpublished, 1977. (cf. Chapter 8).
8. John V. Taylor, Enough is Enough, Augsburg Publishing House, 1977, p. 69.
SESSION I--TAKING A CLOSER LOOK (click here)
Help us, O Lord, to be the instruments of Your love, that we may bring comfort to those who sorrow and joy to those who are regarded as persons of little account. In this country of many races, make us courteous to those who are humble and understanding to those who are resentful.
As for us, make us more joyful than we are, especially when this is needed for the sake of others. Help us learn to celebrate authentically, with joy and thankfulness and in such a way that no one else is harmed.*
Silence and/or spontaneous prayer.
Look at the suggested model for a study-action commitment found in the Preface (p. 3). Take some time to discuss any proposed changes or modifications, then adopt a commitment with which the entire group can concur.
Almost all of our celebration occasions involve gift giving in one way or another. If they don't involve the specific practice of buying and giving (or "exchanging") gifts, they involve feasting, partying and usually dressing up. As they have evolved in our society, these practices are singularly expensive, wasteful and impersonal. When we have an occasion to give gifts we generally buy ready-made, prepackaged items in commercial, profit-oriented stores. When we have occasion to feast and party we are inclined to plan elaborate and somewhat artificial affairs which feature junk food and too much of everything, and which limit invitations to family and friends who can be depended upon to return the invitation. When we have occasion to dress up, anything we've worn a few times before suddenly seems impossibly old and used and we aren't happy unless we can go out and buy something new. Most of us are not always this capricious all of the time. But our culture bombards us with these kinds of values ceaselessly and we succumb often enough that none of us are free of complicity and the need for change.
We are going to use the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, 25:31-46 to guide us through the study of all of our holidays, celebrations and gift giving occasions. Take time at this point to read this passage aloud.
The scripture tells us simply and directly that those who have shared their material goods, their time, their energy and themselves, without thought of return and often without consciousness of the depth of their own compassion, are the ones who will find favor in the final judgment. What is being described in this passage are the new kinds of human relationships which Jesus asks of his followers and which he made possible by his life, death and resurrection. These relationships are acted out in the form of giving and sharing-clothing, food, shelter, hospitality, time, energy and compassion-all components of celebration!
Our goal, then, with respect to the task at hand, will be to set out to transform our celebrations in the image of the Matthew 25 vision. Because we understand that our celebrations reflect the patterns of our daily lives, we will seek to broaden and transform our understanding of our traditional holidays-their reasons for being and our reasons for celebrating them. In so doing we will hope to evolve celebration patterns which will be less commercial, less exploitative, less wasteful and expensive, while they are more personal, more joyful, more dedicated to sharing with the needy, and more open to the fostering of genuine community-Shalom. If we can achieve this we will also have begun to withdraw our tacit cooperation from the systems which demean humankind and to give back to our earth the capacity to support her people!
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Isaiah 58:1-12 (also, if there is time, read Isaiah 1:10-18). Then read, again, the passage from Matthew 25.
Since we are thinking chiefly about alternatives, let us note first that Isaiah here proposes an alternative fast. Fast and worship were intrinsically related to each other in ancient Israel. And worship and culture are inseparable for all of us. Isaiah is saying that if we want to please God, we cannot do it with ritual observance and professions of faith alone. Jesus, also, judges us on our radical love for the poor and dispossessed. He tells us here and elsewhere that not everyone who professes belief and faith will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Mt. 7:21-23) but only those who understand what is pleasing to the Father and act accordingly.
These passages help to make clear to us that God's desire is Shalom or the well-being of the whole world under God's sovereign rule. We are to be God's instruments to bring about His will. How can this universal well-being occur except through our caring for others in a truly unconditional way?
What the prophet Isaiah is saying is that no amount of church-going, no number of religious observances, no amount of money given, no amount of believing can fulfill the Lord's desire without service and love for the oppressed, the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the fatherless and the widowed. And what Jesus has done is to take up this cry of the prophet and show us that he dwells in the situation of these unfortunates and that if we seek him we must look for him there.
Some points for discussion:
1. Consider some of the usual ways in which we have tried to relieve misery and serve others (i.e. one meatless day a week during Lent, the money saved going to world hunger, a "mitten tree" in the church social rooms during Advent to collect warm clothes for poor children, food baskets to needy families at Thanksgiving-the group should be able to think of many more). Are these efforts the kind of alternative worship of Isaiah and the service sought in Matthew 25, or are they ritual observances which serve mostly to make us feel good? What is wrong with them?
2. In the fight of these Bible readings, is it legitimate for us to continue to celebrate our great Christian feasts-Christmas and Easter, and our personal and National holidays-without becoming deeply concerned about how we do it? Don't treat this question lightly. Take time for individual members of the group to articulate why this is important to them.
3. Can we transform our celebrations to alternative celebrations based on the biblical call for justice and equity (righteousness) that we hear in Isaiah and Matthew?
This last challenge is what we will hope to learn to do in the remainder of our study-action sessions. Before we make our final commitments to continue with this study and to enter into the challenging actions and alternatives which follow we must take one further look at what we're in for. What we are setting out to do, among other things, is to "rock the boat." We will be rocking our own boats of habit, false security and traditional assumptions. In so doing, we can't help rocking the boats of others in our congregations and communities.
Some people are going to get seasick from the rocking and some may even fall overboard. Certainly, a great deal of our unnecessary material and emotional "baggage" is going to go overboard. There will be those who will challenge us in the name of "peace" and "harmony" and congregational or community "unity." We may even be accused of being unloving. What we must remember, with all humility, is that it is legitimate for us to be "troublers in Israel" for that is what God's prophetic voices are called to be (I Kings 18:17; Amos 7:10-13; Mt. 13:53-58).
At this point, it is time to formalize the commitment which has already been decided upon by the group. If there are those who, after studying these initial considerations, feel that they cannot participate wholeheartedly they should be free to resign. All those who agree to the commitment, however, and continue to participate should muster every effort to be faithful and serious about their intentions.
The making of the commitments need not be formal or ceremonial. Simply make them with good intentions. Perhaps the commitments could be sealed with the following prayer:
O Lord, open our eyes that we may see the need of others, open our ears that we may hear their cries, open our hearts so that they need not be without succor. Let us be not afraid to defend the weak because of the anger of the strong, nor afraid to defend the poor because of the anger of the rich. Show us where love and hope and faith are needed and use us to bring them to those places. And so open our minds and hearts that we may these coming weeks learn to do your work of peace.*
At the end of this session, take time to discuss the proposed Local Supplement to the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue. If this project is acceptable to all the members of the group, nominate committees, choose fields of interest and set up your procedure for the remainder of the program. If the group decides against doing a Local Supplement, some other meaningful project should be substituted and the procedure for developing it should be decided upon at this time.
Read together Mary's Song of Praise (The Magnificat) in Luke 1:46-56. Follow with silence or spontaneous prayers or have a brief, informal meditation about what these words really mean!
Use this time to complete the work of developing and detailing your action project. If you have decided to do a Local Supplement, take some time for all the members to study their copies of the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue so that decisions can be made about the format and contents of your Local Supplement. Of course, you will want to avoid being repetitive, but your study will show you that there are many areas in which a Local Supplement, well done, can serve to flesh out and complete the Catalogue as an instrument of local value.
The objective of Session III is to begin the detailed study of our traditional celebration patterns and to examine more specifically how they can be transformed. Christmas is a good place to start, because of all our Christian feasts it is probably the most badly prostituted. And of all our holidays, Christian or otherwise, it is probably the most oppressively demanding of our time, energy and money. It is safe to say that no person reading this is free of guilt and frustration and disgust at the way the festival of Christ's birth has been co-opted by our consumer economy and our secular priorities. All of us who call ourselves Christians and many who do not, share a deep longing to rescue the integrity of Christmas. Christmas is also a good place to begin a study of celebrations in general because for us Christians it is the premier birthday. So there are essential ways in which we should use our insights about Christmas in the celebrations of all the other birthdays in our lives--our own, our children's, parents', and friends'.
It is our objective here, then, to begin with the simple recognition that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus Christ. Decommercializing and transforming Christmas must begin there. We must remember that when we celebrate a birthday we give gifts to the person whose birthday it is and further, we are careful to choose what that person expressly wants.
As we have seen, Jesus has made known to us what he wants us to give him. He pointedly insists that in order to gift him we must find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned (Mt. 25:31-46). Also, as we have seen, our hope in this study-action program is that we can learn to respond compassionately to the desperately inequitable distribution of food, wealth and resources in the world. Likewise, our hope is to learn to respond sensitively to the need in our own lives for graciousness, simplicity and quality. Our starting point will be the assumption that these responses can best be made by first responding to Jesus' word to us about our relationships in the global community. So it must be apparent by now that one thing we will be doing when we think and talk about gift-giving, is concentrating much more on our loving relations with those beyond our personal circles of friends and family.
This is not to suggest that we stop giving gifts to our own loved ones on these occasions. Also it is not to suggest that our outreach to the "have-nots" of the world should be simply in the form of supplying some fraction of their material need from our material surplus. It will, rather, be to use the word of Jesus in Matthew 25 as a "handle" by which we can modify our personal wasteful and less exploitative. At the same time we can free our time, our resources and our very lives to be available to form new relationships with the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick or the imprisoned.
What we are up against when we consider all the interrelated problems of material well-being or privation is our system of overconsumption. Overconsumption in our society is more than a habit, even more than a way of life-it is a system. It is a system because the continual creation of material needs and desires through aggressive advertising is the very foundation of our economic system. Our response is to get right in there and do as we're told by the advertisers! So our response makes us part of the system. The system can't perpetuate itself without the active cooperation of the consumer.
We should understand overconsumption here as compulsive buying and acquiring which involves the continual striving for more and more possessions. It is the treadmill of always having to learn more in order to buy more.
As it is described here, this phenomenon is a peculiarity of modem society. But it is really only the dependence of our economic system on the highly developed "come-ons" of the advertisers which is new. The role played by people as compulsive consumers and acquirers has been with us always. The Bible refers to it more often than we might imagine. For example, could it be that Jesus' parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) also applies to those who have "wandered afar and wasted (their) substance on culturally stimulated forms of riotous living which offer no true satisfaction or joy in the deepest sense?"' Even earlier, the prophet Micah described a vicious cycle:
You shall eat and not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger in your inward parts;
You shall put away, but not save, and what you save I will give to the sword.
You shall sow, but not reap; you shall tread olives, but not anoint yourselves with oil; you shall tread grapes, but not drink wine. (6:14-15)
It's true that in its setting this text refers specifically to the form of God's punishment of the people for enriching themselves at the expense of the weak (verses 9-13). But it's important for us to understand that God's world is ordered in such a way that compulsive material acquisitiveness can never satisfy. The punishment is inherent in the crime! "In allowing ourselves to waste our attention and our energies on the never finished, never fulfilling, and ultimately exhausting treadmill of ' consumerism,' are we not duplicating the pitiable error of Esau in selling our spiritual birthright for a mess of pottage (Gen. 25:29-34)? 112
And, of course, the message of Matthew 6:19-21 about the impossibility of serving God and Mammon and the futility of laying up treasures is inescapable. We cannot be God's servants when we are already in the service of our possessions. Clarke has compared the consumption system to the enslavement of drug addiction. "Nothing is worse than the ever deepening despair of the comfort/status addict who carries the ever heavier and more intolerable weight of his own pride and anxiety...." 3
Finally, we should recognize that as with all overprivilege, our own excess is possible because of the lack of others. This should help us to understand that in seeking to clothe the naked for our Christmas celebration, we must do so not only by sharing from our wealth, but also by changing our lifestyles so that they do not cause us to deprive others of the necessities of fife.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Jeremiah 9:23-24. Then look at Jeremiah 10: 1-5. The prophet is talking about the sin of idolatry. In the verses from Chapter 10 he is obviously speaking very specifically of the making and worship of "graven images"-idols made of wood and precious metals. The futility and evil of such a practice is immediately apparent to us. However, he is speaking of idols just as specifically in the verses from Chapter 9. Jeremiah is saying that if our education or our political power or our abundant possessions are those things which constitute our primary source of satisfaction and security, then they are, in fact, the objects of idolatrous worship in our lives.
So the reason for looking at passages like these in the context of this session is simply to drive home the point that most of us participate to some extent in idolatry without even realizing it. We are inclined to believe that if our sexual relationships are on the up and up, and we don't murder or steal or blaspheme that we are, morally at least, pretty much in tune with biblical requirements. The truth is that idolatry and social injustice are two of the most frequently discussed sins in the Bible. The message of the Old Testament prophets is almost exclusively concerned with idolatry and the failure to love and succor the weak and the poor. And because they understand idolatry in this broad sense of essential priorities, they recognized that these two sins most of the time went hand in hand.
Some points for discussion:
1. Take time, at this point, to fist some of the idols and idolatrous relationships in your own lives. How many of these things are not only idols (false objects of worship) but at the same time serve to interfere with or preclude the care for the naked and the hungry?
2. Since our specific goal here is to create an alternative Christmas celebration, let's look at the passage in Jeremiah 10 again. To cut a tree, deck it with silver and gold and nail it down so it can't move is something most of us do every Christmas. How, and to what extent do traditional Christmas trees serve as idols and symbols of acquisitiveness, accumulation and consumption for us? What can we do about it?
Now read the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:1-20. The events of the earthly life of Jesus sometimes lose importance for us because we allow them to be overshadowed by our concentration on Jesus, the Christ. It would be well for us to ponder for a moment the kind of courage and trust it must have taken for Mary and Joseph, poor as they were, to undertake this journey and to bring their child into the world not only naked but homeless! We see no attachment to false security here, but only trust in God. However, we do see poor people at the mercy of a system again.
More points for discussion:
I. The 1949 Housing Act, through authorization of the construction of public housing, made a theoretical commitment to provide a decent place for every American to live. Only a fraction of the money necessary for the accomplishment of that objective was ever appropriated, and millions of poor citizens have been forced to live in rat-infested tenements ever since. But many times the amount of money needed for housing has been appropriated for the nation's elaborate interstate highway system. Thus middle class citizens have an easy way to get to their vacation homes or to resort areas on weekends or at vacation time, while poor people have more pressing needs that remain unmet. 4
Mary and Joseph had to make their long journey and have their baby in totally inadequate surroundings because of the taxation requirements of the Roman government. 'Yet, we see no evidence of any benefit to them or people like them from that taxation.
We often feel powerless and frustrated about systemic events like the ones described in the quote above and in the Luke story. Mary and Joseph appear to have simply absorbed their fate without complaint and so must many of the naked and homeless in our midst today. But as we approach the question of our own alternative Christmas celebrations and how they might be designed to confront these needs there is one further clue in the Bible which should be of help. In Matthew 2:1-12 we read about the wise men who came to recognize Jesus but who, when they left, went home by another way in order to avoid confrontation with the political authority responsible for much of the people's suffering. The clue here is non-cooperation! We cannot really say that the system is solely responsible for the problems as long as we are cooperating with the system unquestioningly.
Some Celebration Suggestions: When Christmas comes this year, let us go to meet Jesus in an alternative celebration of his birthday and then let us go another way-a new direction in our lives and in all our other celebrations!
Read the Catalogue sections on alternative Christmas celebrations. Use these suggestions as starters for your own ideas and discussions. See how many additional ideas you can add to your Local Supplement.
Some Action Suggestions: The task of investigating the needs and resources of your community for your Local Supplement should also help your group begin really creative thinking about your own alternative Christmas celebration.
1. Investigate thrift shops, secondhand stores and homemade craft shops in your area. How available are the thrift shops and secondhand stores to the poor? Do they make judgments on those who use them?
2. Canvas local stores and shops about their openness to retail self-help crafts.
3. Do a study on waste in the clothing industry, considering money spent on changing styles, petrochemical fibers in synthetics, etc.
4. Study advertising of Christmas gifts, techniques for creating "needs," hard selling children, etc. Collect ads which are especially offensive. Consider making a display or collage of offensive advertising as a consciousness raising item for your congregation.
Give us courage, O Lord, to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Give us courage to trust You rather than our property and our social position. Let us fear nothing more than we fear You. Let us love nothing more than we love You, for thus we shall fear nothing also. Let us have not other Gods before You, whether nation or state or church or possessions or material security. And having no other god but You, and having the courage that freedom from idolatry gives us, teach us to walk a new way and a new direction.*
Choose a leader for next week's session. Be sure to read all the material in next week's session prior to the meeting.
1. Henry Clarke, Escape from the Money Trap, Judson Press, 1973, p. 14.
2. Ibid., p. 15.
3. Ibid., pp. 15-16.
4. Ibid., p. 23.
All through those weary first days in jail when I was in solitary confinement, the only thoughts that brought comfort to my soul were those lines in the Psalms that expressed the terror and misery of man suddenly stricken and abandoned. Solitude and hunger and weariness of spirit-these sharpened my perceptions so that I suffered not only my own sorrow but the sorrows of those about me. I was no longer myself. I was man. I was no longer a young girl, part of a radical movement seeking justice for those oppressed. I was the oppressed. 1
Silence and/or spontaneous prayers and intercessions.
1. Report the findings of the various committees.
2. Come to a consensus as to what material should be included in your Local Supplement about alternative Christmas celebrations. About local resources for "clothing the naked."
On old (and some new) church calendars this day is designated as Saint Valentine's Day, therefore we can legitimately claim it as a Christian holiday. But where, in its present form of celebration, do we find any remnant of religious significance? Not only has Valentine's Day lost its original meaning, but it has become another captive of commercial interests. It is now owned by the candy and greeting card industries. We are seduced yearly, by Valentine's Day advertising and tradition, into spending inordinate amounts of money on expressions of "love" which are really only expressions of sentimentality. Our kids are hassled by the effort to buy or make a "Valentine" for each person in the class, plus the teacher. Their mothers must add the chore of making cookies for the class party to their already overloaded schedules. (Cookies, by the way, destined to be consumed by children whose diets are already overloaded with sweets and "junk food.")
Surely there is a wholesome place for sentiment between lovers, husbands and wives, children and parents, and friends. But just as surely that sentiment can be better expressed by homemade gifts, handwritten notes, the touch of a hand and a hug. Also, it will mean more if it is extended only to those with whom we are intimate. Again, we look to Jesus' words in Mt. 25 to help us find a way to transform this holiday from an occasion for wasting money and energy to a celebration of love and justice among people. And we hear him say, "I was in prison and you came to me."
Not much is known about the real St. Valentine. But it is believed he was martyred in Rome about 270 A.D. Some say he was a Christian priest or bishop and that his crime was that of performing illegal marriages. Marriages had been outlawed by Claudius II in the interests of "national security" (a concern familiar to us today) because it was believed that family ties made soldiers less willing to fight. Whatever his crime, the story goes that while held in prison, Valentine became friends with his jailer's daughter. On the eve of his execution, he thanked her for her care and kindness in a note which he signed "Your Valentine." And so was born our tradition for exchanging such notes.
In keeping with the spirit of kindness shown by the jailer's daughter and in response to Jesus' words to us in Mt. 25, it seems most appropriate to transform Valentine's Day into an occasion for consciousness raising and meaningful activities on behalf of those held captive. Not only does such a transformation focus on an area of genuine human need deeply appropriate to Christian concern, but it helps to shift the emphasis of this celebration from expressions of superficial sentimentality to acts of genuine love in the biblical tradition.
However, some of us have problems with loving prisoners. After all, aren't they criminals, enemies of law and order and parasites on society? Don't ideas like prison abolishment and prison ministries mean coddling instead of punishing those who break the law? In answering these questions we need, again, to assess where we are in terms of our basic values.
The purpose of the state is to preserve itself in order to preserve law and order. To the state law and order are necessarily higher values than the individuals they are conceived to serve. So, for the state, by its standards it is right to punish those who transgress its purposes. As Christians, though, we must continually be asking ourselves that hard question we first looked at in our opening session. To which kingdom do we owe our ultimate loyalty? And, if Jesus is truly Lord in our lives, where do we look not only for protection but for guidance about whom we love and how we love?
We must also remember that the shortcomings of our law enforcement and penal systems are such that justice is not, in fact, served in most cases:
Criminal courts themselves are often poorly managed and severely criticized. They are seriously backlogged; in many of our major cities the average delay between arrest and trial is close to a year.... Too often lower criminal courts tend to be operated more like turnstiles than tribunals. 2
We spend ninety-five cents of every dollar for prisons on pure custody; iron bars and stone walls; and they dehumanize. We spend five cents on hope--health, mental health and physical health, education, vocational training, employment services, family guidance, community service. Most of those inmates have never been to a dentist. Psychoses and neuroses among those people--a major cause of crime-are immense. 3
Whether the prisoner "deserves" to be there or not, there is injustice and misery in every prison and jail in the world.
A further point is that not all prisoners are criminals. In every country in the world, including our own, people are held captive for their political and religious beliefs.
For all these reasons, Christians cannot bypass the prisoners as they set out to bring justice and Shalom into the world. The holy scriptures are full of references to God as the One who frees captives and relieves the oppressed (Ps. 103:6; 68:6; 146; Is. 42:7; 61: 1; Luke 4:18). As we seek to do God's will among captives we are surely called to concentrate on their misery and need and not on our own notions of guilt and retribution. For those of us who take our direction from Our Lord Jesus and who hoose his Kingdom, the prison walls must evaporate.
Those inside the prisons are as much our brothers and sisters as those outside. Rather than destroying Valentine's Day with this new emphasis, our hope, then, is to redeem it and transform it from a time of pallid ritual into a true celebration, robust with life and love.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Genesis 4:8-16. In this passage from Old Testament scripture we read about the first murder and the first criminal. God is greatly angered by Cain's deed and He punishes him swiftly and severely. This is something which we can readily understand-it is justice. But the significance of the reading for us may be found in verse 15. Here it seems that God reserves the right to retributive justice for Himself. It is here that we begin to see that retribution and sovereignty must go hand in hand-that one without the other is entirely inappropriate. As we consider this point, we need to ask ourselves whether, as followers of Jesus, our claims to this kind of sovereignty over the destiny of our brothers and sisters is presumptuous. Are we called to love and to serve rather than to judge and condemn? Are the two mutually exclusive?
Now turn to Luke 4:16-21 and read this aloud. The very first time that Jesus reads publicly in the synagogue, he reads this passage from Isaiah where it is written that he is sent to proclaim release to the captives and liberty to the oppressed. That he chose this particular passage to read for his first public appearance is extremely important. It is also very significant that this incident occurs directly following the ordeal in the wilderness where Jesus has struggled to repudiate the various false conceptions of messiahship that would allow him to announce himself as a great king or a mighty general or even as a relentless judge. But instead he publishes his commission to bring in God's Jubilee Year! We have read the Jubilee Laws (for Session 1) so we already know that, among other things, they provide for "liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants" (Lev. 25: 10). Nothing is said about liberty to everyone except those who owe debts to society. As followers of Jesus' way, shouldn't it be the Christian's responsibility to find more human and redemptive ways to exact society's debts? Jesus' proclamation of the Lord's Jubilee Year is no less than the good news of his Kingdom. His followers are "members" of his Kingdom already, and so must respond to the wrongdoers in their midst in ways which are radically different from those used by the kingdoms of this world.
Some points for discussion:
1. It's our present custom on Valentine's Day to remember our loved ones with candy, flowers, and cards. We are now suggesting that we should also remember the least of our sisters and brothers-those in prison. How can we love the imprisoned in such a way that he or she will be comforted and benefited?
2. In their recent campaign against capital punishment, the Fellowship of Reconciliation circulated a lapel button which says: "Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" A contemporary of the original Saint Valentine was the Christian philosopher, Lactantius, who said, "It can never be lawful for a righteous man ... to accuse anyone of a capital charge. It is the act of putting to death which is prohibited, there can be no exception at all. It is always unlawful to put a man to death." How often are we Christians the ones who initiate the punishment of criminals even though Jesus showed us another way? Even though we are part of a society which uses these methods, what are some ways in which we cart realistically oppose and separate ourselves from these practices? Is it enough to stand aloof, or should we also become involved in campaigns for alternatives to prisons and for the abolition of the death penalty?
Criminal justice is a vast and complicated field of study. Of course, we cannot here undertake to become experts. But the job of investigating some of the criminal facilities in your community and state and the process of thinking through some of the reasonable ministries and alternatives in which Christians can become involved, is not beyond the reach of any concerned group.
A first National Conference on Alternatives to Incarceration was held recently. It brought together criminologists, public figures, people from church and community agencies, ex-offenders and present prisoners. On all sides there was agreement that our present prison system is a failure.
Incarceration seems to reinforce the failure syndromes of offenders, as the high recidivism rates for both juvenile and adults demonstrate. Some of the worst economic, social and racial ills in the society are accentuated by the disproportionately high percentage of the poor, of blacks and other minorities behind bars. Sentencing practices are capricious, the "most lawless part of the system" as one commentator pointed out, and parole procedures are both insulated and arbitrary. At the present rate, both sentencing and parole procedures are filling the jails and prisons beyond capacity, resulting in their failure as decent if not humane institutions and issuing in the demand for still more prisons--at an intolerable economic and social cost. 5
This same conference went on to observe that it is a "philosophic schizophrenia" which allows notions of punishment and rehabilitation to exist side by side as the dominant motifs in the American penal system. Ideally, "punishment" and "rehabilitation" should be able to work hand in hand. That is, it should be possible to exact a penalty for a crime at the same time that the wrongdoer is aided and reinforced in more acceptable behavior-as we try to do with our children. The simple fact is, however, that the nature of our present penal system is such that this is impossible. Prison brutalizes people. People cannot be corrected and rehabilitated while they are being brutalized. So, it would seem that one of our primary Christian concerns should be to seek alternatives to a bankrupt penal system.
Some of the alternatives to imprisonment which have been worked out are:
1. De-criminalizing certain offenses, especially the so-called victimless crimes.
2. Restitution programs in which convicted property offenders remain free and, under a contract between victim and offender, make restitution under supervision.
3. Pre-trial diversion is yet another. These programs allow for various kinds of conflict negotiation to resolve interpersonal crime situations before they go to trial.
4. Various kinds of pre-release and halfway houses constitute yet another alternative.
5. Also there is offender-victim reconciliation under the guidance of trained counselors.
Can you think of any other, particularly of any which operate in your own community? Do you have any ideas about some you think should be tried?
In addition to working for prison alternatives, there are many existing ministries and services to prisoners which need loving helpers. Some of these are, Volunteers in Court and Volunteers in Probation. Pennsylvania has a Prisoner Family Welfare Association, a Prisoner Visitation and Support Committee and a Prisoners' Rights Council, as well as the oldest Prison Society in the nation. What similar organizations exist in your state and community? Make it a primary action of your group to find out about such organizations and to learn exactly what it is they do and what they need in terms of volunteers and other kinds of help.
Beyond investigating these basic questions, the group needs to make some plans for the ongoing work on the Local Supplement.
1. Compile a concise report on the findings of the above investigations so that anyone interested will know what's available in your community in terms of alternatives to incarceration and volunteer prison ministries.
2. Visit the various "correctional" institutions in your community and talk to the prisoners if possible. Find our how they visualize their situation and make a list of their expressed needs. Remember the most important thing about loving prisoners, as anyone, is to be able to give them what they need, not what we think they need.
3. Write to:
[This list has not been updated.]
Amnesty International USA, 2112 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10023 and ask for information describing what they do. When their brochures arrive, have some members of your group see if they can organize interest in Amnesty International in your congregation. Many Christian congregations already have groups committed to Amnesty International. Yours could be one of them. Also have someone write to:
Washington, D.C. 20016
Prison Research Education Project
3049 E. Genesee
Syracuse, N.Y. 13224
National Monitoring on Prison Construction
324 "C" St. SE
Washington, D.C. 20003
Offender Aid and Restoration
Charlottesville, VA 22901
Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons
Nashville, TN 37212
29 E. 22nd
New York, NY 10010
Some of these groups need local affiliates.
Help us, O Lord, to be more loving. Help us, O Lord, not to be afraid to love the outcast, the leper, the unmarried pregnant woman, the traitor to the state, the people in prison and those coming out of prison. Help us by our love to restore the faith of the disillusioned, the disappointed, the victims and those who make victims. Help us by our love to be the witnesses of Your love.*
Choose a leader for next week. Remember to do all the reading in the Easter session before the meeting. Be prepared to report your prison findings for the Local Supplement and to discuss some project this group can undertake or sponsor so that a transformed Valentine's Day will not be just a study but a celebration.
1. Dorothy Day, quoted in Meditations, Stanley Vishnewski, ed. . Newman Press, 1970, p. 8.
2. from the final report of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence (December, 1969) quoted in The Patriot's Bible, Eagleson and Scharper, eds., Orbis Books, 1975, pp. 118-119.
3. Ramsey Clark, then Attorney General of the United States, in a speech at Atlantic City (1970) quoted in The Patriot's Bible, p. 119.
4. Lactantius, quoted in No King But Caesar? A Catholic Lawyer Looks at Christian Violence, William R. Durland, Herald Press, 1975, p. 81.
5. William N. Lovell, in a review of the First National Conference on Alternatives to Incarceration.
We often seek the waters of life
and we acknowledge our repeated thirst.
We like the trinkets of the world
though we see them rust in our hands.
And we lay claims on Your creation for ourselves
and thereby cause alienation and pain.
We are often anxious over your gift.
We forget your Fatherly love and your faithful promises.
So refresh the gift for us, O Lord.
Breathe into us once again
Your life-giving Spirit.
And make the gift of Christ's resurrection
the open sign to all the world
that your children might walk in the newness of life.1
Silence and spontaneous prayers.
1. Report the findings of the various committees.
2. Decide what material from the week's investigations should be included in the Local Supplement.
3. If the group is considering undertaking or sponsoring a prison project, use this time to discuss the details and nominate volunteers to implement the project.
Easter commemorates the central event in human history for Christians. With its message of new life and resurrection it is our most joyous feast. But, like Christmas and Valentine's Day, Easter has fallen victim to the insatiable clutches of commercialism and secularization. Our culture and our economy use Easter as just one more excuse to urge us to buy more and eat more. Much of this is accomplished through the exploitation of the secular traditions surrounding the Easter celebration. So let's begin our transformation of Easter by looking briefly at these traditions and their origins. If we understand them it will be far easier for us either to reject them completely or to harness the energy of our attachment to them for a life-supporting and "Christianized" use of them.
Most of the symbols of Easter come from ancient myths and legends. The word Easter comes from the Anglo-Saxon name for the Teutonic goddess of spring, Eostre or Ostera. 2 A day was traditionally set aside for her in a pagan observance of the earth's awakening. The primitive Christians built on this festival, adding to it the celebration of the Christian event of the resurrection.
Eggs were held by Egyptians as sacred emblems of the renovation of humankind after the deluge. The Israelites adopted the symbol as part of their celebration of the Exodus. The egg then became for Christians a symbol of future life, of the resurrection of fife. The symbolism is apparent if one views a chick as being entombed in an egg. For this reason, they have been decorated, shared, searched for, and given to friends as part of the Easter celebration. But how many of us, as we help our children decorate eggs, think to tell them why it is being done and teach them about the miracle of new life that they symbolize?
The Easter bunny, for some inseparable from the religious significance of the day, also originated in Egypt. The hare was the symbol of the moon and because traditional spring feasts were set by the phases of the moon, the hare became associated with these celebrations. As Easter became the Christians' festival of spring and new life, the hare maintained a central position, becoming mutated into a bunny.
For centuries, Easter Eve vigils and sunrise services have been a part of the celebration of Easter. The sun was thought to dance as it rose on this glorious day and so the faithful would rise early and gather around water to watch the sun's reflection on the waves. This last is truly significant since, in a very unique way, water is the most basic and most biblical symbol of new life.
"For I was thirsty and you gave me drink" is one of the phrases in the Mt. 25 scripture which guides our thinking through these celebration studies. And, as with all others, this word has several levels of meaning and significance for us. First, it surely means what it literally says. Just as Christians clothe the naked and visit prisoners, so they also give water to the thirsty. But because of the vast weight of symbolism carried by water in much of the biblical literature, we must also see this in its broadest sense. Water is life itself to the thirsty. Water is life itself to the earth and all living and growing things. For the Christian, fife itself must be new fife in Christ in order to be fife at all. As we have seen, what we are about in our study of celebrations is to learn to celebrate and to five as Christ would have us do in order that all people and the earth itself may five.
III Bible Study:
Read aloud Genesis 9:8-17. This is a story familiar to us from childhood. It tells us that there was a time when God used water to destroy almost all humankind for their wickedness, evil and violence (Gen. 6:5-7, 13). But just as surely as the water wrought the destruction, the subsiding of the water gave new life to the earth. As the world is reborn, God makes His covenant-not just with humankind, but with all living things. It is a covenant of peace and providential care and it promises that henceforth water will be a life-supporting element.
In ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the rainbow was a symbol of peace because in its inverted position it resembled the unstrung bow of the archer. In this covenant God associates this bow of peace with the rain clouds. The covenant is initiated by God and is one-sided--that is, humankind is not asked to give anything in return for God's promise that "the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh." So, in a very real way, this story stands as the point at which water becomes the biblical symbol of new fife.
Just as God asked nothing in return for His promise at the end of the flood, so Jesus asked nothing in return for dying on the cross for our sins. But as we come to understand both acts we find that a freely given response is required by our own hearts and consciences-a response in which we take up God's concern for all living things and Jesus' care for those who thirst, both physically and spiritually.
Now read aloud John 4:7-15. In this familiar story, Jesus reveals to the Samaritan woman the full meaning of his own being. He compares himself to "living water" which brings new and eternal life. This, then, is the true significance of placing our discussion of Easter's celebration of resurrection and new life under the rubric of giving water to the thirsty.
"The resurrection is the foundation of Christian ethics and the new fife of discipleship. Because Christ lives, we have the power to live a new kind of life. "I The Spirit of the risen Christ-this living water-is that which gives us the power to clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, feed the hungry and give drinks to the thirsty.
At another point in this Gospel, we find Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (Jn. 13:1-20). In that act he demonstrates most clearly that it is servanthood to which his followers are being called. Being servants is a lot harder than being masters. That is why we need the "living water" of the risen Christ to make it possible for us to give ourselves in service.
Some points for discussion:
1. In his discussions with the Samaritan woman and with his disciples, how does Jesus use water to represent new life in both spirit and flesh? How is this new life practiced by giving water to the thirsty? Who are these thirsty?
2. In washing his disciples' feet, Jesus points out that even though he is Lord and Teacher to them, he stoops to serve them in the most menial way, and he then asks them to follow his example with others. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate in self-effacing action. We know that elsewhere in the Gospel of John he asks us to go so far as to follow even this example (Jn. 13:34; 15:12).
Easter, as the central Christian celebration, symbolizes that love is more powerful than evil and violence. It tells us for all time that, in loving God and serving humanity a person overcomes the power of death. So now let us begin to look at some ways in which we can keep Easter so that our celebration reflects this truth.
Current practices of conspicuous consumption and pretentious displays of new clothing are a sad contradiction to "love overcoming sin and death." Especially in view of the human misery which is our constant companion these days, why don't we Christians wear clothes until they wear out? Doing so would place us in the position of being followers of Jesus' example as he asked us to, for he was a man of few possessions.
Some Celebration Suggestions:
1. Instead of buying new clothes for Easter, why not "resurrect" old clothes and give them new fife. Aging blouses, shirts, sweaters and skirts which have lost their appeal can be dyed and tie-dyed, embroidered or appliquéed with flowers, ruffled and flounced and laced. Make a celebration out of old clothes!
2. Little or nothing need be said about the meaninglessness and harmful effects of commercial Easter candy. Substitute wholesome, homemade treats which contain seeds and nuts.
3. Teach the children about the symbolism of new fife in the eggs they decorate. Fill Easter baskets with seeds and plants and make an Easter celebration out of starting the garden or the seed flats.
4. If you have a party or a gathering include a foot washing or foot massaging as part of the festivities. Or have a foot washing ceremony in your church. There is no better way to engage in a ritual demonstration of humility and love for the other person, and the basic equality of all people.
5. Discuss and add your own ideas about more genuine ways to celebrate Easter.
Some Action Suggestions:
1. Reducing clothing purchases frees up extra money. Consider what might happen in a congregation liberated from this consumer practice. If 100 families diverted $200 each from spring clothing purchases to a human welfare cause of their choice, the total would amount to $20,000! For the sake of humanity and our own liberation we need to overcome our discomfort at wearing clothes which are "out of style" or frayed around the edges.
2. Few things could be more essential to new life and hope for the future to a poor person than improved housing or increased job opportunities. Choose to focus on one of these areas and make a study of housing or employment problems in your city or neighborhood. Then see if your group can agree on some ways in which the thirst for decent employment or decent housing could be slaked for some in your community. Perhaps your church could assume responsibility for rehabilitating one or several homes or housing units.
For information on how one church group is renovating slum housing write to:
2025 Mass. Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20009
3. Have someone in your group write for information about the work of Koinonia Partners and their Fund for Humanity: Habitat for Humanity Rt. 2, Americus, Georgia 31709
The work of this community has been a truly visionary response to the need for decent housing and employment for poor, rural blacks and whites in southern Georgia.
Universe and every universe beyond, spin and blaze, whirl and dance, leap and laugh as never before. it's happened. It's new. It's here. The liberation. The victory. The new creation. Christ has smashed death. He has liberated the world. He has freed the universe. You and I and everything are free again, alive again. Let's have a festival and follow him across the skies, through the flames of heaven and back down every alley of our town. There, let's have him come to liberate our city, clean up the mess and start all over again. You conquered. Keep on fighting through us. You arose. Keep on rising in us. You celebrated. Keep on celebrating with us. You happen. You are new. You are here .4
1. from Liturgies For Life, by Jack Lundin, CCS Publishing House, 1972.
2. some of the material from this section came from the Spring Celebration Packet, published by Alternatives. No longer available.
3. Ron Sider, "The Resurrection and Radical Discipleship" in Right On, April, 1976, p. 4.
4. Norman C. Habel, Interrobang: Open 2, "Easter," Fortress Press, 1969, p. 70.
Write to Alternatives for current materials on alternative Christmas celebrations.
Lord, into Your hands we commend our spirits, and the spirits of all those we love. Into Your hands we commend the spirits of all those who are fearful, of death of life, of principalities or powers, of things present or of things that may never come. Into Your hands we commend the spirits of all those who fear change, more than they fear You, who put the law above justice, and order above love.*
Silence and spontaneous prayer.
1. Report the findings of the various committees. 2. Come to a consensus on new and better ways to celebrate Easter, both privately and in your congregation. Decide upon pertinent Easter material for inclusion in the Local Supplement. 3. Choose a housing or employment project for the group to sponsor.
Having just explored our celebration of resurrection and new life, it seems appropriate at this point to devote a session to the way we celebrate death--our funeral and burial practices.
Death is a universal human experience-it is a part of life. And for us Christians, who believe in the resurrection, it is in a very real sense the beginning of new life--a birth as much as a death. If we can begin to think of the deathday as a birthday we will be on the track to learning to celebrate rather than mourn death. But because death separates us from loved ones we see it as an ending and it causes sadness.
John Donne said "Every man's death diminishes me," Which was to acknowledge his union with the whole human family. The death of a friend or loved one should encourage survivors to meditate on the meaning of fife and its values. It should provide an appropriate environment for both enrichment and refinement of life for those who remain. It is not difficult for us to understand this in terms of our personal lives and relationships-especially if we have ever experienced the death of one close to us. But, in the fight of what we have been learning in these sessions about global relationships and the interdependence of the human family, we must also consider how a death can put us in touch with the meaning of life as a whole, not just with the meaning of our own lives. And in so doing, death, the great leveler, will begin to speak to us about human dignity and justice.
When we get down to specifics, we immediately realize that what we must deal with is the cost of celebrating death. Here we are, faced with yet another life situation which has been paralyzed by our consumer culture into a multimillion dollar business. In many ways this may be the most insidious seduction of all, since it feeds on the weakness and indecisiveness that so often accompany shock and grief. When a dear one is newly "lost" our first reaction is simply to try to preserve some aspect of that person in tangible terms. Or we fall into the trap of believing that the most lavish services and memorials are those which will best symbolize the importance of the deceased in our lives.
As we seek ways to reverse these tendencies, our starting point, as always, must be our faith. If we believe in a lifestyle of modesty and simplicity, and if we believe in the resurrection from the dead, why must we spend inordinate amounts of money on elaborate funerals and expensive coffins? Don't such practices belie all our basic Christian beliefs? What possible purpose is served by the elaborate adornments and entombment of a body which used to belong to a person who is now in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus?
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud the story of the death and burial of Moses in Chapter 34 of Deuteronomy. Note especially what it says in verses 5 and 6. Moses was the first among all the prophets of ancient Israel. He was also the very symbol and embodiment of Israel's liberation from her Egyptian enslavement. In short, Moses is the greatest of Old Testament heroes. And yet, about his death, the Bible records only one brief sentence, and a cryptic statement that nobody knows where he is buried. Surely this should give us a hint as to the relative importance of burial rituals in biblical thinking. What's important here is that Moses died as he lived. What happened to his body after he died is simply irrelevant. By way of contrast....
In puny defiance we make waterproof, rustproof caskets and embalm our remains to insure some survival beyond death. But the Lord has his way and the elements themselves will have us if the insects and beasts don't get there first.
Moses knew the Lord of Life too well to either run from death or permit a fancy embalming. Moses walked out to meet him letting God, who envelops us all our lives, enfold him when he died....
The freedom that comes with abandoning oneself to God, looks like death before we let go. 1
Now read aloud from Mark 15:42-47. Here we have the familiar story of Jesus' burial. Jesus had that "freedom that comes from abandoning oneself to God. . ." and in that freedom he willingly met his death. In death, as in the life of the flesh, he was a man of poverty wrapped in plain linen (as the swaddling clothes of his simple, homeless birth) and laid in a borrowed tomb. Isn't it fortunate that his family and friends didn't spend their hard-earned money on a beautiful, embroidered shroud and a fine, private tomb? What a waste that would have been, since he not only arose and left the tomb on the third day, but left the linen garment behind!
The lesson to be learned from these Bible readings is even more clear than most. In its fight there hardly seems to be any question about the theological and moral impropriety of expensive and ostentatious funerals and burials. The human difficulties are the same as with any of our other misguided celebrations. The money spent on elaborate burial is wasted money which would be better spent on the needs of the living. So, our discussion in this session needs to center around 1) how we can by-pass the funeral industry and 2) what are some meaningful alternative funerals and burials which would be more appropriate to our Christian beliefs?
One thing it's helpful to know is that, as expensive as standard funerals are, about 75 percent of the cost is for services and only about 25 percent for merchandise. 2 The "services" offered by the average funeral establishment and for which the customer pays, include such things as ownership and maintenance of property, buildings, parking lots and automotive equipment or provision of space and inventory for a variety of coffins, vaults and clothing.
1. Visit the funeral homes in your community. Find out if the figures quoted above hold true in your area. Find out what are the services for which the customer pays. Find out if there is any way for the funeral home customer to avoid paying for unneeded or unwanted services.
2. When we are through with our physical bodies, they need to be disposed of. The burial industry is built on this simple fact. Consider the alternatives to burial.
3. If conventional burial is preferred, there are still ways to beat the system. Non-profit funeral and memorial societies have been formed in recent years in some 130 cities in the United States and Canada. Most of these societies stress advance planning for death and are formed primarily to help people make intelligent decisions about body disposition in a calm and objective atmosphere. But many of them also include information about local availability of simple burial. The best source book is Dealing Creatively with Death: Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial by Ernest Morgan, available from the Alternatives. For information on how to start a memorial society contact the Continental Association of Funeral and Memorial Societies
Investigate your nearest local funeral society, if there is one, and compile as much information as possible about simple burial possibilities in your locality. Consider forming such a society, if your community doesn't have one.
4. Have someone write to:
The St. Francis Burial and Counseling Society
1768 Church Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
to obtain their brochures and Newsletter for the group's use and for mention in your Local Supplement. The St. Francis Society is not only a good source of information and support, but they sell plain pine boxes or "pauper's coffins" and even do-it-yourself kits so that you can make your own.
5. Finally, have a look at the usual kinds of funeral services which are conducted in your church. Are they joyful celebrations or mournful and dreary occasions? In most churches it is the family of the deceased which plans the service with the help of the pastor or priest. Consider forming a resource group to assist and encourage the planning of joyful resurrection services in celebration of the birth of loved ones into a new fife.
For none of us has life in himself, and none becomes his own master when he dies. For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then whether we live or die, we are the Lord's possession.
Choose a leader for next week. Be sure to do all the reading before the meeting. Be prepared to take action on the results of this week's investigations.
1. Richard S. Hanson, Kingdoms of Man and the Kingdom of God, Augsburg Publishing House, 1971, pp. 85-86.
2. This and other information was obtained from "Matters of Life and Death" published by The First Presbyterian Church of Greensboro, North Carolina. (no date available)
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars,
I am the Red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek-
And finding only the same ole stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.'
Silence and/or spontaneous intercessions.
1. Report the findings of the various committees.
2. Come to a consensus as to what material should be included in your Local Supplement about alternate funerals and burials.
3. If it was decided to set up a permanent alternate funeral resource group in your congregation, take volunteers to organize and implement such a group.
What does our celebration of national independence have to do with welcoming the stranger? Let us simply begin by recognizing that, too often, the stranger in our midst is suspect. The stranger is different, the stranger is the foreigner or the person of another race or ideology and, as such, the stranger is perceived as the enemy. In the name of our national security or the preservation of our national freedom, our tradition and habit is to segregate, exile or even kill in war those strangers who are perceived as enemies.
Our transformed celebration of our national independence will have to begin with a transformed understanding, in biblical terms, of the meaning of revolution and patriotism. There is no reason to celebrate the birth of our nation unless we can legitimately see that nation as something good and valuable. But in recognizing what is good and valuable about our nation, we need to be very careful to avoid deifying her. Too often we fail to accept our national shortcomings or we resent and resist suggestions that America is imperfect. When we do that we miss our best opportunities to work for her improvement.
Another problem is that we risk allowing our patriotism to grow so fervent and uncritical that it borders on idolatry. In so doing we fail to remember that God as Sovereign and Jesus as Lord are the only proper objects of a single-minded and uncritical loyalty on the part of Christians. National loyalty is only appropriate if it takes the form of thoughtful admonition and concern for improvement.
Because our witness to the Lordship of Jesus in our lives is at stake, the way we celebrate July 4th is extremely important to Christians, even though it is not a religious holiday. In addition to this consideration we must add the usual ones of too much money spent on the wrong things and too many valuable resources wasted.
Our current normal way of celebrating Independence Day was foretold (and possibly even suggested) by John Adams. He said:
... (This day, July 4, 1776) will be the most memorable moment in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance.... It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with show, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illumination, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward, forevermore.'
This pretty well describes what is usually done on this day all over the country. But John Adams, important as he was, is only one voice. Other founding leaders also helped to shape our nation's destiny. Some of them speak with different tones. Hear what Samuel West said in Dartmouth, Mass. in May of 1776:
... Unlimited submission and obedience is due to none but God alone. . . to suppose that he has given to a set of men power to require obedience to that which is unreasonable, cruel and unjust is robbing the Deity of his justice and goodness in which consists the peculiar glory of the divine character, and is representing him under the horrid character of a tyrant .3
And hear what Frederick Douglass said a couple of generations later:
What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery, your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgiving, with all your religious parades and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. 4
So, first of all, we should remember that in celebrating the birthday of our nation we are celebrating a very human and imperfect creation, one we may love and cherish--but one in need of our constant efforts for criticism and change. A second thing we should bear in mind as we approach a reconsideration of our July 4th celebration has to do with our biblical theme. We look to Jesus' teaching and this time we hear him say "I was a stranger and you welcomed me." Let us never forget that we, as a nation, have invited and cried out for the strangers we find among us. In the words of Emma Lazarus, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty at one of our major gateways, we have asked the world for nearly 100 years to:
Give me your tired, your poor Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! 5
So why are we so worried about the jobs that might be filled by Mexican, Vietnamese, Cubans and Haitians?
The constantly repeated mandate of God to His people is to love the stranger because they once were strangers (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:38; Deut. 10: 19). It applies as surely to us Americans as it did to the ancient Israelites. Except for the true natives of this land, we were all strangers here once.
Our transformation of our July 4th celebration, then, needs to be directed and informed by these two considerations. First, that unlimited loyalty is due only to our sovereign God and not to our nation. Second, that our legitimate patriotism requires us continually to call our nation back to those human and fife-supporting reasons for which she was founded--not the least of which is the welcoming of the strangers found both inside and outside her borders.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud I Samuel 8:1-22 and then read John 19:12-16. Here are two scriptural words about "kingship" or nationhood. In the first we find the ancient Israelites clamoring for a human king so that their nation can be just like that of all their neighbors. They are no longer Willing to trust God to rule their political lives and to handle their national defense. They want to push God's sovereignty into the spiritual realm and trust their national well-being, instead, to the same kind of governing institution which they see their pagan neighbors using. God's willingness to acquiesce and let them have their way simply reflects His consistent respect for the freedom which He, Himself, has given His creatures.
In the passage from John's Gospel we read about the way in which the Jews delivered Jesus up for execution. Jesus was a Jew in the best tradition, deeply founded in the law and the prophets. And, as we have seen, his teaching so fulfilled and completed the law and the prophets that he was in every sense that deliverer and Messiah for whom his nation had waited so long. Yet Jesus' teaching was so liberated and liberating that is was a threat to those who had come to rely too heavily on the Law. His teaching, his lifestyle, and his claims made many Jews look upon him as a stranger and an enemy and so they killed him in the "best interest" of their nation, all the while proclaiming their patriotic loyalty to Caesar!
We can learn some eternal truths about the seductions of sovereign nationhood from these readings. When the importance of nationhood is taken too seriously it leads to parochial nationalism and civil religion. An attitude of nationalism tends to fear strangeness, strangeness in turn breeds enemies, and enemies bloodshed. "Kings" and firm national boundaries become the means to the end of national security. When national security becomes more important than the people it is intended to serve. it becomes its own reason for being.
In the light of these biblical insights, let's take another look at our traditional Independence Day celebrations. As we have already observed, they tend to follow John Adams' suggestion to the letter. One of the most basic problems for us Christians, however, is that our celebrations tend to dwell on national defense and security. We eulogize military heroes. We memorialize wars, battles and police actions more than any other kind of historical event. In so doing, we perpetuate for ourselves and our children the notion that strangers are to be feared and enemies are to be killed. Our first thrust in transforming July 4th, therefore, should be to find new areas of emphasis which are consistent with our patriotic loyalty to the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated.
Some points for discussion:
1. The ancient Jews surely lost some of their most basic religious values as a result of their complicity with nationhood. Have we Christians lost some of our religious values in the same way? Take some time to list what these values are and discuss how they might be recaptured.
2. Take a look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 23:29-39. Note that he has some harsh criticism for monuments built and rituals observed to honor dead heroes. Is he criticizing this practice per se, or is he criticizing the inconsistencies in the behavior of those who do it? Jesus' word here seems to be that past heroes are best honored by the welcome given their successors. How welcome would most of our national forefathers be on the American scene today? (Remember that they were mostly "radicals" and revolutionaries.) How welcome would Amos or Jeremiah be? (Remember that Amos was ordered off government property for subversive preaching--Amos 7:10-12--and Jeremiah did time in prison for undermining national morale in wartime-Jer. 37.) How welcome would Jesus be?
Some Celebration Suggestions:
1. Review and research the historical events of 1775, 1776, and 1777. Choose some occurrences other than battles and killings which are more in keeping with our Lord's way and which deserve therefore to be commemorated by Christian citizens as part of their national heritage. Plan ways to celebrate these events.
2. Research the stories of some of the "tired and poor" immigrant strangers who have become part of the American heritage. Avoid concentrating on the ones who went on to become rich and powerful! Think of some celebration events which would serve to memorialize these people.
3. Study the following quotations:
Thomas Jefferson: "The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force."
Abigail Adams: "If particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to forment a revolution and will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
James Madison: "The most common and durable source of faction has been the various and unequal distribution of property."
Josiah Quincy: "It is much easier to restrain liberty from running into licentiousness than power from swelling into tyranny and oppression."
If one of these people, or someone like Frederick Douglass were to plan the celebration in your community, how do you think they would do it? 6
Some Action Suggestions:
1. Learn whether your community has any groups of recent immigrants. If you live in an area that employs migrants or seasonal workers, these are the strangers who most need your welcome. Learn what their conditions and needs are and prepare to discuss how your group or congregation can bring welcome in the form of improved conditions.
2. If there are no immigrants or migrants in your community, study the problems of migrants elsewhere and discuss possible boycotts of farm products or other actions that can be taken in their behalf.
Lord, teach us the meaning of Your commandment to love our enemies, and help us to obey it. Make us the instruments of Your love, which is not denied to the hungry, the sick, the prisoner, the stranger or the enemy.
Teach us to hate division, and not to seek after it. But teach us also to stand up for those things that we believe to be right, no matter what the consequences may be. And help us each day to do some work of peace for You, perhaps to one whom we thought to be our enemy.*
1. Langston Hughes, quoted in The Patriot's Bible, Eagleson and Scharper, eds., Orbis Books, 1975, p. 47.
2. Paul S. Minear, I Pledge Allegiance, Geneva Press, 1975, p. 41.
3. Samuel West quoted in Minear, p. 42.
4. Frederick Douglass quoted in Minear, p. 41.
5. Emma Lazarus quoted in The Patriot's Bible, p. 79.
6. These quotations and this idea were taken from Minear, pp. 46-47.
O Almighty God, who hast called us to faith in thee, and has compassed us about with so great a cloud of witnesses; Grant that we, encouraged by the good examples of thy Saints, may persevere in running the race that is set before us, until at length, through thy mercy, we, with them, attain to thine eternal joy; through him who is the author and finisher of our faith, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
(from the Old English Book of Common Prayer, and designated for All Saints Day)
Silence and/or spontaneous prayer.
1. Report the findings of the various committees.
2. Come to an agreement as to which of the alternative Independence Day celebrations discussed should be recommended and included in your Local Supplement. Be sure to develop the details of the ones you include.
3. If the group has decided upon an action in behalf of migrants,
nominate volunteers to implement the project.
Like Valentine's Day, Hallowe'en is an erstwhile Christian feast which has utterly lost all religious significance. And just as, at first glance, we had no idea what the connection could be between Valentine's Day and prisoner ministries, so we may wonder what the connection can be between Hallowe'en and visiting the sick.
As most of us know, the contraction "Hallowe'en" stands for All Hallows' Eve. This day is none other than the Christian Eve of All Saints Day or All Souls Day-the feast of All Saints being the first day of November.
Hallowe'en was originally a pagan holiday. And, as with most of the festivals of the Christian calendar, the religious feast-in this case All Saints Eve-was superimposed by the early Christians. But our present Hallowe'en traditions couldn't possibly be further removed from a celebration of the lives of the saints. The pagans have recaptured the festival! Our children celebrate demons, goblins, witches and ghosts instead of the saints on this day. Further, we allow, and even encourage, our children to celebrate the day by running around the neighborhood demanding treats (which they don't need) in place of threatened property damage. That this is a simple and straightforward form of blackmail seems never to cross our minds.
Our purpose then will be to bring Hallowe'en back to the celebration of the Saints, to deliver it from consumer threats, and to harness the energies we devote to it in the service of others. Again, we look to Jesus' word in Matthew 25 and this time we hear him say "I was sick and you visited me."
The saints that are celebrated and remembered on All Saints Day are no less than the whole glorious body of believers who have died in Christ. They aren't just "saints" in the narrow sense of those heroes and heroines of the faith who happen to have been canonized-but that "great cloud of witnesses" referred to in our opening prayer. The saints are all people, generation after generation, who have striven to be disciples, and so it is legitimate for us to think of ourselves as saints. Each one of us is living the life of a saint because we love Jesus and are trying conscientiously to be like him. This is why we can look in scripture for what is said about the activities of the saints and the disciples and then undertake those activities for ourselves.
When we look in the Bible at the commission that Jesus gave to his disciples (Mt. 10:7-8; Luke 9:2; 10:8-9) we find that he simply told them to preach his Kingdom and heal the sick. And when we read through the Book of Acts, studying the journeys and missions of Paul and Barnabas and Peter and the other early saints-preaching Jesus and healing the sick are the things we find them doing most frequently. The point is that ministry to the sick is seen, biblically, as being one of the most basic activities of the believer.
So, just as we transformed Valentine's Day into an occasion for reaching out to prisoners in keeping with the ancient story, we suggest a transformation of Hallowe'en in keeping with its meaning as the special day of the saintly disciples of Jesus-the witnesses and healers.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Deuteronomy 18:9-14. This is a statement of the biblical law against all forms of what we would now call witchcraft and black magic. It is clearly stated and unequivocal. Notice that these are said to be the practices of Israel's neighboring nations. It is known that so-called divination was widely practiced in the Ancient Near East and that soothsayers, augurs, sorcerers, etc. were those who engaged in divination in its various forms. Even though there has been a notable resurgence of interest in occultism in our generation, it is surely safe to say that few parents have any notion of overtly encouraging that interest when they allow their children to dress up as witches and ghosts and magicians at Hallowe'en. At the same time it is just as safe to say that there can be no good purpose served by continuing to do so. The reason that these "abominations" were and are so unacceptable before God is that they are patent attempts to gain power by controlling future events for oneself and others. This is to deny God's sovereignty and to forsake all trust in Him. The fact is that the abominations listed here are being fantasized and romanticized by us as we presently celebrate All Saints Eve.
Now read in Mark 3:1-12 and 20-27, the familiar stories of Jesus' acts of healing and how they got him into trouble. The first and most important point to remember about Jesus' acts of healing is that he steadfastly refused to practice "magic." Every gospel story of Jesus' healings carefully centers; the basis of the healing in the authority of God and the quality of faith of the one healed. All healings are seen as being for the purpose of glorifying God rather than as any special mark of favor on their recipients. In spite of all this, Jesus is accused of sorcery in his healings and even his own family thinks he is "possessed."
The biblical condemnation of occult power grabbing, the commission of Jesus to his disciples to preach his Kingdom and heal the sick, and Jesus' own deeds of healing and their distortion by his enemies have one thing in common. They tell us that through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus disciples (the saints) are called to cease living in their own interests and follow his example. They are called to demonstrate the reality of salvation by curing the sick and casting out demons.
Clarence Jordan used to talk about "incarnational evangelism" by which he meant living the faith in obedience and imitation of Jesus. Doing this makes out witness and our life that which heals and teaches those it touches. Jesus never refused to heal a sick person, nor did he ever turn away from any sorrow or suffering. In using his Matthew 25 teaching to direct our search for alternative celebrations and alternative lifestyles, we are simply seeking to live incarnationally and thereby to join his company of saints.
Some points for discussion:
1. In what way does our present Hallowe'en celebration pattern represent a sick society? In discussing this question, don't fail to consider the spectacle of rich children begging.
2. If we follow Jesus in really radical ways, choosing his values and methods over those of our culture, do we run the risk of being accused of being "sick" or "crazy"? How should we handle this?
3. Does our popular image of Jesus as primarily a miracle worker rather than a person healer sometimes get in the way of a real understanding of his mission and that of his followers? What can seeing ourselves as person healers tell us about our response to problems of global justice? About our own lifestyles?
Our purpose, then, is to recapture Hallowe'en as the celebration of All Saints with an emphasis on the "saintly" activity of visiting and healing the sick. To do this we will want to think of ways to celebrate this occasion which will implement and affirm this new purpose. We will also want to seek some project which puts this purpose into action.
Some Celebration Suggestions:
1. Have a good old fashioned dress up Hallowe'en party in your church. Include children as well as adults. Ban traditional witch and goblin costumes and ask everyone to come dressed as their favorite saint. There is no end to the fun things which can be done with this theme. Consider ending the evening with an informal Eucharist or liturgy celebrating the saints and dedicating the participants to "saintly" deeds.
2. Instead of trick-or-treat, organize your children and their friends to make treats for others. Then, dressed in homemade (not store bought) costumes, plan a visit to a hospital pediatrics ward, a home for the aged, or to shut-ins from your congregation. Take the treats to give (rather than to get) and give some time and good cheer as well!
3. Discuss ways in which these visits might be made into an ongoing project in your congregation.
Some Action Suggestions:
We would condemn the individual doctor who refused to live up to the Oath of Hippocrates by declining to give medical treatment to a needy person simply because that person couldn't pay for it. But the real problem of medical care in a country like the United States is not the greed or lack of concern of individual doctors. The problem stems mainly from a medical care system which insures neglect of the poor. It keeps the number of trained medical personnel artificially low by restricting the building of medical schools and admissions to them. It allocates research funds to glamorous frontier issues that are not likely to benefit large numbers of persons any time soon instead of to the problem of extending basic medical care to all those who do not currently have it. It gives the highest payoff to specialists, making it financially and administratively difficult for a doctor to be an old-fashioned general practitioner. 1
The inadequate or nonexistent health care available to poor people in most areas of our country is another scandal of injustice which faces our world today. The quotation above states only a fraction of the overall problem. Even where some poor people theoretically have access to private physicians and adequate medical care through Medicaid, the reality more often than not is that they are defeated by red tape and suspicious attitudes on the part of those who deal with them. In addition, Medicaid and welfare fall far short of covering everyone in need, so that every community is full of those who cannot afford even minimum health care and who have no recourse through the welfare and Medicaid systems.
1. Learn whether or not there am any free clinics in your community. If there are, find out Who operates them and how they are operated. How are they funded? Check specifically to see whether or not judgments (in the form of things Eke means tests) are being made on the clients. (Remember the meaning of biblical justice!) What are the limitations imposed in terms of clientele? What are the limitations in scope and services?
2. Canvas your local medical society and find out what their official attitude is toward free health care for people.
3. Prepare to discuss a) ways in which existing free health care facilities can be aided by donations, volunteers, etc., and b) ways in which your group or congregation might help to expand health care for the poor in your locale.
It seems to me that we must begin to equal a little bit the courage of the Communists. One of the ways my Communist friends taunt me is by saying, in effect: "People who are religious believe in everlasting life, and yet look how cowardly they are. And we who believe only in this life, see how hard we work and how much we sacrifice. We are not trying to enjoy all this and heaven too. We are willing to give up our life in order to save it." 2
Choose a leader for next week. Be sure to read all the material for next week's session. This includes a review of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Laws from Leviticus and Deuteronomy and the sections called "The Non-Violent Dominion" and "Eucharistic Living" from Taylor's "Theology of Enough." Prepare to take action on the projects suggested here, keeping your Local Supplement in mind.
1. Henry Clarke, Escape from the Money Trap, Judson Press, 1973, pp. 22-23.
2. Dorothy Day, quoted in Meditations, Stanley Vishnewski, ed., Newman Press, 1970, p. 73.
I was hungry And you blamed the Communists,
I was hungry and you landed on the moon,
I was hungry and you told me to wait,
I was hungry and you set up a commission,
I was hungry and you said, "so were my ancestors,"
I was hungry and you said, "we don't hire over 35,"
I was hungry and you said, "God helps those."
I was hungry and you told me I shouldn't be,
I was hungry and you told me machines do that work now,
I was hungry and you had neutron bombs and Trident submarine bills to pay,
I was hungry and you said, "the poor are always with us."
Lord, when did we see you hungry? 1
Silence and spontaneous prayers.
1. Report the findings of the various committees.
2. Come to a consensus as to what alternative Hallowe'en celebration your group wants to sponsor, and what suggestions to include in your Local Supplement.
3. If you have decided upon a health care project, discuss its organization and implementation. Discuss including the results of your local health care investigation in your Local Supplement so that people in your community will know where to direct their donations and their volunteer efforts.
We hear endless talk these days about world hunger. Obviously the global problem commonly referred to as "world hunger" is really what these studies are all about. Hunger, starvation, malnutrition, not having enough to eat - this is what occurs in the lives of individual people who are victims of all the systemic and structural injustices which we have touched on in these studies. Hunger is the basic manifestation of all these other things. If people are hungry, all other conditions of their lives become secondary. Whether or not they have a roof over their heads, whether they are in or out of prison, whether they are enslaved or free - all of these things pale and become irrelevant before the specter of hunger.
Webster defines famine as "an acute and general shortage of food." A glance at history shows us that famine has occurred and recurred throughout the generations of humankind. However, there has been an insidious deception abroad in our own century that famine is a thing of the past. This is because there has been no experience of famine among the writers of history and the arbiters of culture in the western world since the dawning of the industrial revolution. What has happened, however, is not that famine has been conquered, but only that it has been redistributed. 2 Famine, like the world's goodies, is not equitably (or even equally) distributed. Food and the capacity to buy food lies always within the grasp of the largely white, industrially developed and mostly Christian people of the "first world" nations. Famine is the portion of all the rest of the people in the world. This means not just the so-called "third world" countries, but the poor of the "first world" as well. Palpable hunger is part of the life of the impoverished no matter where they live.
In a study published this year, the National Academy of Sciences estimates that "750 million people in the poorest nations live in extreme poverty with annual incomes of less than $75."3 In middle income developing countries, there are another 170 million at the extreme poverty level and hundreds of millions more living at bare subsistence levels. In 1974, the U.N. estimated that "at least 462 million are actually starving." That's more than two people starving for every man, woman and child living in the United States. When one adds the hundreds of millions who have enough calories but lack sufficient protein, one is forced to the ghastly conclusion that at least one billion people are starving and/or malnourished today.
Our traditional Thanksgiving is really a national rather than a religious holiday. But because it centers on the spirit of thankfulness for God's bounty, it has a specifically religious purpose.
The story of the origins of Thanksgiving is too familiar to bear repeating here. It began as a time set aside to thank God for His providential care for sojourners in a strange land. It has evolved into a time when, if thanks is offered to God at all, it is too often that it is offered in the spirit of the Pharisee's prayer: "God, we thank you that we are not Re other people: i.e. poor, dirty, smelly, lazy and non-white. . ." (Luke 18:11). This may seem a little harsh and it's true that most of us do not give thanks for our abundance consciously in this way. But we would do well to face the fact that we white, North American Christians are in the position of giving thanks for what amounts to a greedy and excessive overabundance of food and wealth. In so doing we are continuing to set ourselves apart from all our poorer brothers and sisters on earth.
Feasting has its place in our lives. Few of us are called to unrelenting austerity and God's bounty is certainly worth celebrating! So we are not recommending that joyous banqueting should be rooted out of our lives. We only suggest that at Thanksgiving we tend to make a ritual of feeding ourselves and our friends to the point of gluttony. We also tend to remember the world's hungry only in the most "spiritual" and abstract way. We should never forget that what comes from God belongs to God. Our very act of giving thanks acknowledges that our overabundance does not ultimately belong to us. Add this truth to what we have already learned about God's special love for the poor and we are left with no question as to how we should put our thankfulness into action.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Ezekiel 34:1-24. Study with special care verses 17-24. This passage is one of the most important prophetic words about the issues of justice and Shalom which we have been studying. Ezekiel uses the perennially beautiful biblical motif of shepherd and sheep to describe succinctly and harshly the social conditions he observed and to transmit God's judgment about those conditions.
In the first part (verses 1-10) the judgment is on community leaders and politicians. Good leaders think only of the welfare of the people. But bad leaders think of the people only as so many opportunities for self-enrichment. After this we hear God telling us that He, Himself, will take over the job of the leaders He has ,dispossessed for their unfaithfulness (verses 11-16).
Remember what we have already learned about how ancient Israel got its first human king. Remember also our many references to the importance of God's sovereignty in our lives. We need to ask ourselves continually to what extent God really rules the decisions we make. If we claim God as Lord of our lives, then we must recognize that that means Lord of all areas of our lives.
These two parts of Ezekiel's word have a lot to say to us about the structural and institutional evils which result in so many malnourished and hungry people. But let's take an even closer look at verses 17-22. Here we have a statement about class conflict, pure and simple. Apparently, the "haves" and the "have-nots" also existed commonly in the Judah of Ezekiel's day! Then, as now, there were those in the community who enriched themselves at the expense of their brothers and sisters. That means there are some people who have to be content with what's left - if indeed, there is anything left.
It is important to note that this point is made in the context of an allegory about the feeding of sheep. It is the figures of ample pasture versus ruined pasture, clean water versus polluted water, and fatness versus leanness that carry the whole point that the prophet wants to make about the mutual responsibility of people for each other. The prophet does not stop with his observation that the strong are inclined to shove aside the weak. Rather, he goes on to point out that this means that those weak ones who are shoved aside end up going hungry.
Now read I John 3:11-18, concentrating especially on verses 16-18. Ezekiel has told us that God himself shepherds His people when their appointed leaders fail them. He goes on to say that a leader (the Messiah) will be sent by God who will feed his people, (vs. 23). Now, in John's letter, we read the reminder that Jesus fed his people with his very life. We are told that since he did this for us we should be willing to do the same for others. The very next verse paints an even clearer picture of how we do it. If we have and others have not, then we cannot "close our hearts." Words are not enough but must be backed by deeds. And, as we have learned, deeds are not enough either unless they reflect a basic change of lifestyle!
Some points for discussion:
1. Look again at the last two verses of our Ezekiel reading, verses 23 & 24. Here we are told that the coming Messiah will be a compassionate leader who will feed the lean and lost sheep. How does Jesus propose to go about feeding all the hungry of the world? Does he perform magic or does he need faithful disciples to be his instruments? Is this why it takes a change of lifestyle to be able to do this work?
2. Review again the Sabbatical and Jubilee Laws from Leviticus and Deuteronomy which you studied in Session I. Also, read again the section under the subheading "The Non-Violent Dominion" in Taylor's chapter "Theology of Enough" (pp. 50-56). How should these writings affect the way we regard our ownership of property? What about the produce of our land, our gardens and farms? If we 11 share" our produce and property are we being wonderfully generous and unselfish or are we simply letting go of some of what is only entrusted to us?"
3. The word "Eucharist" means thanksgiving and in the biblical sense, thanksgiving means giving and sharing. "Thanks" is always an offering of something more than words. Our Eucharistic rituals are in grave danger of being nothing more than the empty 11 sacrifices" which God abhors" (Is. 58:1-7; 1: 11; Hosea 6:6; Mt. 9:13; I Jn. 3:18), unless there is some real connection between what we do in the Eucharist and what we do in' our daily lives. In the Eucharist we are genuinely communing with the Christ who resides in the poor, the weak and the oppressed. If we could hear him speak in the bread and the wine, what do you think he would say to us?
4. Considering that the original Thanksgiving celebration took place on stolen land, how might we practice the Jubilee year and biblical Eucharist with our Native American brothers and sisters?
5. 1 recently gave birth to a baby boy. One of my greatest sources of daily thankfulness is the knowledge that my son will grow up with normal eyesight, normal learning ability and a strong and straight body because he has enough to eat. I believe that I must strive to raise him in the knowledge that he owes his life and all his faculties to God in such a vital way that he will want to spend his life serving in the Matthew 25 way. Discuss the raising of children in light of Matthew 25.
Read again the section under "Eucharistic Living" in Taylor's chapter "Theology of Enough" (pp. 60-62). The ideas expressed here are central to any attempt at an authentically biblical
"Thanksgiving" celebration. Notice that God does not object to feasting, drinking and merrymaking. Austerity is not necessarily the point -- at least not on celebration occasions. And gloominess is certainly not the point, ever! The point is who is invited to. the feast and in what spirit the feast is celebrated.
Some Celebration Suggestions:
1. At first consideration the idea of having strangers -- especially if they are seedy or dirty or sickly - in our homes and at our tables may seem appalling. But this is precisely what is being suggested here. Consider how much easier and more joyful, for everyone, this practice might be if undertaken in community. The thought of several families getting together to put on an "open door" feast isn't nearly so scary, is it?
2. I know a retired couple who have a lovely home and like to entertain. They decided long ago to "tithe" their dinner invitations. Whenever they have a dinner party, one-tenth of their invitations go to people they know or have heard about who are poor and alone, retarded, crippled or in some way totally unable to return the "favor."
3. Another alternate Thanksgiving idea could involve a radical alteration of the amount and type of food consumed without in any way reducing the merriment and joy of the occasion. The alternative cook books listed in the reading list are full of wonderful vegetarian recipes which contribute to a feast every bit as sumptuous as turkey or prime rib, and at a fraction of the cost.
Some Action Suggestions:
1. If 100 families in your congregation were to reduce their holiday food budgets by only $50 each and pool the money for some world hunger project, it would come to $5,000 from your congregation alone! Think what it might be from your community if you could organize several congregations similarly.
National IMPACT Network
110 Maryland NE
Washington, D.C. 20002
Bread for the World
Materials from these organizations can be especially valuable to any group looking for ways to realistically address world hunger.
They also provide valuable information on diet and food usage for "haves."
Close by praying together the Lord's Prayer. Remember that Jesus instructed his followers to pray this daily (Mt. 6:7-14). Would he have asked us to pray each day for that day's bread, if he expected us to store up excessive quantities of food?
1. paraphrased from Justice and Service, Issue nos. 3 & 4 (1973).
2. Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Inter-Varsity/Paulist, 1977, p. 25.
3. World Food and Nutrition Study, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D. C., 1977, p. 34.
All we ask, O Lord, is to be safe from the rain.
Just warm enough in winter
To watch the snow with a smile,
Enough to eat
So that our hunger will not turn us to angry beasts.
And sanity enough to make a justice that will not kill our love of life. 1
1. Report findings of the various committees.
2. Come to a consensus as to what material should be included in your Local Supplement about alternate Thanksgiving celebrations.
3. If it is decided to recommend a permanent World Hunger project to your congregation, do the preliminary organizational work at this time.
We are nearing the end of our study. Indeed, we have already considered most of our major holidays and celebration occasions. We have thought so much about how manipulated we are by our culture and economy, that we are now in a position to be wiser about even those holidays which we haven't specifically studied.
For example, we can see immediately that one of the main problems with Memorial Day and Labor Day is the fact that the whole country gets into their cars and takes to the roads. That this is a waste of fuel and a danger to life hardly needs mentioning. The number of cheerful and creative alternatives must be almost as great as the number of concerned Christians thinking about it!
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are major holidays we didn't specifically study. Here again, you will realize immediately that you have gained an important new perspective and can begin visualizing meaningful alternatives to all night drinking bouts and all day football games.
In addition to all the calendar holidays which were not specific subjects of study, there are a number of what we will call "private" celebration occasions. Most of these occasions have also become parlayed into major consumer industries. Good (or bad) examples of special occasions particularly susceptible to this consumer-oriented pressure are weddings, graduations, birthdays and anniversaries. This final celebration session, then, will be devoted to a look at these occasions. But because the pattern for study has been so well set, this session will not suggest directions and alternatives. It will rather leave that up to your own hopefully more knowledgeable and committed group!
Of these private celebration occasions, weddings are perhaps the most obviously in need of changing. Let's just take a brief look at the way in which our society has convinced us that marriages must be celebrated. The news stands are full of slick and beautifully illustrated magazines for brides. These magazines are full of seductions designed to convince the bride (and groom) that they must buy, buy, buy, in order to be happy! The major approach with respect to the wedding itself and the honeymoon is the once-in-a-lifetime pitch. Marrying couples are told that since this will (or should) happen only once in their lives they must make it the most memorable occasion in their lives.
There's nothing wrong with this idea. What's wrong is the thesis that the only way this can be done is to waste vital resources by overeating, overdressing, buying every known gadget and home furnishing on the market and then taking a trip to some resort which has no apparent connection with reality. To suggest this is to insult the intelligence and the humanity of the bride and groom. Unfortunately, our cultural brainwashing has been so complete that most of us don't realize our intelligence and humanity are being insulted! Look at the article in the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue for more details on how the great wedding rip off works.
Graduations are not the glaring offenders which weddings are. This is probably true, however, only because they are not considered "romantic" or important enough to be exploited to such a degree by consumer interests. But they are enough of a problem that we should include them in our list of private occasions in need of our Shalom revolution!
Also, not far behind weddings are our birthdays. We have already spoken briefly about birthdays in Session III, since that is the time we considered our treatment of Jesus' birthday. In looking for ways to transform the way we celebrate other birthdays - our own and our loved ones'- we should look back at some of the things we decided were worthwhile to do in celebrating Jesus' birthday. After all, if Jesus expects us to try to imitate him and be like him - which he surely does (John 13:34, 15:12; Luke 14:27) then it is reasonable to pattern the celebration of our birthdays after the celebration of his birthday.
Before proceeding with this session, take time now to list all the different kinds of private celebration occasions that are represented in the group. Make a large newsprint chart or use a blackboard. Have each participant list the occasions in his or her family life which are routinely celebrated in one way or another.
Then organize the listings into some kind of sensible order and post them on the board so that everyone can see them. Then proceed with the Bible study.
IV Bible Study:
Read aloud Joshua 24:1-28. The occasion for this speech of Joshua to the assembled people (verses 2-13), and the subsequent challenge of Joshua (14-15), and the promises of the people (16ff) is said to be the first Covenant renewal celebration after the crossing of the Jordan. Sort of like the "big first annual birthday barbecue" of a new church or new community! It's a celebration. And it's a celebration like all the ones we've been studying. In our study together, we have learned that all our holidays and celebration occasions are the ritual remembrance, perpetuation, or commemoration of something - some personal or religious or national event from the past. We should have also learned that there's not much sense in remembering and celebrating past events unless 1) those events themselves have some real, intrinsic value, and unless 2) we can commemorate them in such a way that their value is preserved and our act of celebrating is God-centered and life-supporting.
Let's look again at Joshua's first annual Covenant renewal celebration. It begins with a big speech by Joshua in which he recounts all the dark and glorious events of the community's history. After that, he asks the people to take a stand and make a response. They do so by promising always to serve God and to have nothing to do with any foreign or false gods.
Joshua accepts the peoples promise but he isn't as excited as you'd think he might be. He seems to be pretty much aware of how tempting it will be to try to temporize or compromise. He's also very aware of how hard it is to maintain pure and steadfast loyalty past the first wave of enthusiasm!
The overwhelming importance of all this is that what is being celebrated and responded to here is God's history, God's work in behalf of His people, God's acts. We talk about my birthday as if we created ourselves. We plan and celebrate our wedding as if we were the only two people on earth. We eulogize my country, our nation as if we brought it into being and made it secure. We mark our anniversary as if the continuity in our lives was born of our own power.
The trouble is, of course, that we seem to be unable to trace God's hand at work in the movements of history and the events of our lives. At best, our communal history and our personal lives are to us the story of our discovery of God, rather than God's revelation to US.
The lesson to be learned from Joshua's speech is simply to give credit where credit is due. If God is the Maker of all things and the Judge of all humankind, then all credit for all accomplishments must go to Him.
The lesson to be learned from the challenge to the people to choose what gods they will serve, follows easily. Life is always confronting us with alternatives: God or mammon, the immediate present or the distant future, expediency or principle, the temporal or the eternal. All too often, we try to live by half choices. ". . . as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" should be the rallying cry of the God-centered life and the God-centered family or community.
Now read aloud the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2:1-11. We choose this not just because it's a wedding feast but because it depicts a thoroughly domestic scene and gives us a true insight into Jesus' relationship with his family and friends. It could just as well be a birthday party or graduation dance that Jesus went to that day. The fact of Jesus' presence at the celebration indicates that he was not only known and liked in his neighborhood, but that he was known to be someone who would "fit in" at parties and would enjoy himself there and be a delight to other guests. His mother's quiet confidence that he could do something about the shortage of wine indicates more about her personal relationship with him than her vision of him as the Chosen One. She speaks as one who has had a long experience of him as a helpful and sensitive person.
Miracle-working aside, the lesson to be learned here is simply that which we've been saying all along: that celebrating is inextricably part of our God-given lives. If our lives are to be God-centered, our celebrations should also be God-centered. The lesson is that if we can place ourselves, our lives and all our resources completely at God's disposal (not in half-choices and half promises, but wholly and completely) then ourselves, our lives and our resources will be the raw material God uses to begin building His Kingdom on earth (Mt. 6:10) just as He used water to make wine.
Now look again at the list of private celebration occasions which has been prepared and posted for everyone to see. Spend the rest of the meeting time (at least an hour or more) creating new ways to celebrate these occasions according to all the things which have been learned in these sessions and which are so well summed up in today's Bible study.
Remember, some of the most important points from past sessions are:
1. The way idolatry creeps into our lives causing us to rely on our possessions, our social status, our nation's power, rather than on God.
2. The way overconsumption becomes a vicious cycle requiring us always to buy more and more and then to spend more taking care of what we own.
3. The way we hate of allowing ourselves to be convinced that the more elegant and elaborate the clothes, the food, the gifts and the ceremonies, the more meaningful and memorable is the occasion.
4. The importance of giving rather than taking and of giving prodigally beyond our personal circles of family and friends when we wish to celebrate biblically.
5. And finally, bear in mind all the while that if an occasion is worth celebrating it is worth celebrating because God made it so.
Whether it is birth, life, love, marriage, graduation, death, national integrity, material plenty, or spiritual salvation that we are celebrating - it is a gift of God. Celebrate in such a way as never to offend the Giver!
Be sure to make a careful compilation of the results of this session and include it in the Local Supplement you are preparing. This may be the most important and certainly the most personal part of your work together.
For a closing meditation read Jesus' parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:15-24. (If anyone in the group has the recording of the song by the Medical Mission Sisters, recorded by Vanguard, AVM101, it would be fun and meaningful to play it and sing it together to close this meeting). This parable sums up all the things which we have set out to learn about in this study-action program.
1. reprinted by United Farmworkers of America from To Believe in Man, by Joseph Pintauro, Harper & Row, 1970.
The Church Has the Power to Restore the Holyday
It is obvious that the world cannot afford the USA. Nor can it afford Western Europe or Japan. In fact we might come to the conclusion that the earth cannot afford the 'Modern World.' It requires too much and accomplishes too little. It is too uneconomic. Think of it: one American drawing on resources that would sustain 50 Indians! The earth cannot afford, say 15 percent of its inhabitants - the rich who are using all the marvelous achievements of science and technology - to indulge in a crude, materialistic way of life which ravages the earth. The poor don't do much damage; the modest people don't do much damage. Virtually all the damage is done by, say, 15 percent. . - The problem passengers on Spaceship Earth are the first-class passengers and no one else. 1
Nothing counts more heavily against the technocracy than a successful desertion, for there is no underestimating the influence of an authentically happy disaffiliate in a society of affluent self-contempt. Every drop-out who drops into a freer, more joyous, more self-determining style of life - a style of life that works - breaks the paralyzing official consensus. 2
Even if one only goes a few steps out of the mainstream to redesign some small piece of one's life ... it is a sign to one's fellows that something better is possible, something that does not have to await the attention of experts but begins here and now with you and me. In changing one's life one may not intend to change the world; but there is never any telling how far the power of imaginative example travels. 3
Maybe in the process of changing our way of celebrating, all of us can become more humane, more sensitive to the whole human family, and more caring of our mother earth. 4
Silence and spontaneous prayer.
Next to the subject of our children, how we live is probably the most difficult area of our lives to discuss with any objectivity. The miracle of the gospel is the way it frees us from being defensive, empowers us to look at ourselves and the world as they really are. The ten sessions you have just come through were undoubtedly painful at points. Having been through the struggle which in a sense never ends, I can affirm that the rewards of the simple life are worth the pain. What is important is that you have made a commitment to alter your lifestyle, not where you are in the process.
What is equally important is that we understand the "power of imaginative example," as Roszak terms it. I am afraid we generally underestimate our individual and collective power to create change. It is not a fantasy to say that the church alone could be the primary people who bring about the decommercialization of Christmas and other celebration events. Brought into local focus that means you could bring about that bold goal in your own life and probably in your congregation without "awaiting the attention of experts."
This is what the National Alternative Christmas Project is all about: helping the church, as individuals and groups in congregations, to begin the long slow struggle to take Jesus' birthday away from the money-changers and restore it to the "once-in-history" event it was. The Project will not work without you and the others using the Guide all over the country. A thousand congregational groups could easily plant the idea so deeply in the public consciousness it would never go away; they could easily divert $10 million out of their own needless Christmas consumption to hunger and human concerns. (That's 100 individuals or families per church redirecting $100 each).
We passionately urge you to decide as a group to accept the Project as a priority between now and Christmas. Discuss in detail the potentials and the costs. Consider working only within your congregation or campus ministry. Consider how much greater change would come through taking the challenge to other churches, to the entire campus community, to the city at large.
If you decide to join forces with other Christians nationally, write us for our free Alternative Christmas Project Manual which will give you the ideas on how to get started. I think you will be amazed at the people in your community who are waiting for someone to give leadership. And the media loves the idea!
Finally, discuss the need of the group to continue their study of voluntary simplicity. Perhaps a weekend retreat open to the congregation would bring clarity, deepen the commitment and expand the ranks.
Contact Alternatives SLOw Down Network for a volunteer speaker or workshop leader.
If you prefer to continue your own study without outside help, I recommend William E. Gibson's A Covenant Group for Lifestyle Assessment.
Please stay in touch with us as you dream and work to move the Kingdom of God off the pages of the Bible into reality in our times.
We would be pleased to have you call on us for any help we can offer.
O Lord, we already know more about the gospel than we have the courage to practice. Help us to so accept Your love that it may dissolve our fears and free us for greater service to the human family.
1. E.F. Schumacher, 'Implications of the Limits to Growth Debate - Small is Beautiful,' Anticipation No. 13, December 1972, WCC.
2. Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends, Faber & Faber, 1973, p. 436.
3. Theodore Roszak, op. cit., p. 430.
4. Alternate Celebrations Catalogue, 3rd Edition, p. 24.
LIST OF RECOMMENDED READINGS (not updated)
General Works on World Hunger and Global Problems:
Brown, Lester, In the Human Interest, New York: Norton, 1974.
Heilbroner, Robert L., An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, New York: Norton, 1974
Hessel, Dieter T., ed., Beyond Survival: Bread and Justice in Christian Perspective. New York, Friendship Press, 1977
Lappe, Frances Moore, and Collins, Joseph, Food First, Beyond the Myth of Scarcity. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.
Lerza, Catherine, and Jacobson, Michael, eds., Food for People Not for Profit, New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.
Minear, Larry, New Hope for the Hungry?, New York: Friendship Press, 1975.
Mooneyham, W. Stanley, What Do You Say to a Hungry World?, Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1975.
Schumacher, E.F., Small is Beautiful; Economics As If People Mattered, New York: Harper, 1973.
Simon, Arthur, Bread for the World, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975.
Callenbach, Ernest, Living Poor with Style, New York: Bantam, 1972.
deMoll, Lane, ed., Rainbook - Resources for Appropriate Technology. New York, Schocken Books, 1977.
Ewald, Ellen Buchman, Recipes for a Small Planet, New York: Ballantine Books, 1973.
Gish, Arthur, Beyond the Rat Race, Scottdale: Herald Press, 1973.
Jurgenson, Barbara, How To Live Better on Less, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974.
Lappe, Frances Moore, Diet for a Small Planet, revised ed., New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.
*Longacre, Doris Janzen, More-With-Less Cookbook, Scottdale: Herald Press, 1976, 2000
Taking Charge, Personal and Political Change Through Simple Living, San Francisco: American Friends Service Committee, 1975.
Biblical Studies and the Church:
Batey, Richard, Jesus and the Poor: The Poverty Program of the First Christians, New York: Harper, 1973.
Hengel, Martin, Property and Riches in the Early Church, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974.
*Sider, Ronald J., Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, Downers Grove/New York: Press/Paulist Press, 1977, 1997
Wallis, James, Agenda for Biblical People, New York: Harper, 1976.
Friends of the Earth, Progress As If Survival Mattered. A Handbook for a conserver society, San Francisco: Friends of the Earth, 1977.
*These titles are especially recommended.
About The Author
Eugenia Smith-Durland was born in West Virginia in 1935 and received a Bachelor's degree in Philosophy and History from Hood College, Frederick, MD., in 1957. In 1978 she earned a Master's degree in Peace Studies from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, Elkhart, Indiana. Her family includes her husband William, four nearly-grown children and a baby son. Commenting on her lifestyle, she reflected: "I used to be rich - not just well-off, but rich. Now I live, by choice, in a poor, mostly black neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and am more at peace than I have ever been."
A Catholic Christian long involved in efforts to end the arms race and establish world peace, she was one of the founders of the Matthew 25 Fellowship for Non-Violence in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and the Matthew 25 Health Clinic. In Philadelphia her work has been with various prison ministries and housing concerns.
Alternatives, a non-profit, tax exempt organization, is the result of one man's dream of an old fashioned Christmas that expresses love, justice and peace, rather than the year's biggest money-making season for advertising and business. Started in 1973 with a commitment to help people discover more cooperative, creative, and responsible lifestyles, the first project was the publishing of the Alternate Christmas Catalogue. Now in its seventh edition, the Alternative Celebrations Catalogue has sparked a national alternative celebrations movement concerned with making all celebrations, including weddings, funerals, Easter, Thanksgiving and birthdays, less consumptive and more life-supporting.
The organization has an extensive web site SimpleLivingWorks.org and a national network of volunteer speakers and workshop leaders.
"This is the best study guide introduction to changing
lifestyle that I've seen."
-Milo Shannon-Thornberry, former Coordinator for Hunger Concerns, National Council of Churches.
"A sensitive approach to practical ways of keeping our
celebrations human - and Christian."
- Earl Barfoot - Tom Van Loon, Department of Hunger and Value Formation, Board of Discipleship, United Methodist Church
"This study guide provides an excellent biblical base
for an alternative lifestyle."
- Ronald J. Sider, author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
"The Alternative Celebrations Campaign is a joyous way
of involving people in voluntary simplicity not only at the level of holidays
but in an overall style of life that focuses On hunger and justice issues.
This guide is a meaningful follow-up for groups who have used William Gibson's
A Covenant Group for Lifestyle Assessment."
- Ann Beardslee, Director, Hunger Program, United Presbyterian Church, USA
"I recommend the study-action guide's integrated approach
to a more just lifestyle. It combines biblical reflection on the signs of
the times with alternative modes of celebrating holidays - all done in the
context of commitment to a group."
- Sr. Carol Coston O.P., Executive Director, NETWORK
ALTERNATIVES for Simple Living, 1973-2011
Gerald Iversen, Alternatives' National Coordinator, 1995-2007
Founder, 2011, Simple Living Works!
"Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly"
Simple Living Works! * SimpleLivingWorks@Yahoo.com
Equipping people of faith to challenge consumerism, live justly and celebrate responsibly
An all volunteer educational organization.