Thursday, November 04, 2004

"Lazarus ... remains unseen outside the gate"

I hate to just rip off another blog, but I'm going to do it anyway. There are a handful of blogs I read regularly, and Mike Cope's is one of them. He had a moving post on Tue, Nov. 2. It is a piece written by Larry James. James is the former minister at the East Richardson Church of Christ in Dallas and is now Executive Director of Central Dallas Ministries. I searched and searched, and couldn't find the text of this writing directly, so - not knowing the legal ramifications - I'm going to copy it here, with a link to Mike Cope's blog that you can go do directly if you wish. (I certainly hope that I'm not offending either Mr. Cope or Mr. James by copying this here, but I was so moved by the writing, I wanted to share it.)

While it is certainly true that the particular issues associated with injustice in this culture may leave much room for debate, compromise and new agreements and partnerships leading to various solutions, the bedrock theological values clearly and consistently espoused by the witness of Scripture and a significant and influential slice of Christian history refuses to let one comfortably "off the hook" so to speak! Whether one turns to the Law of Moses, the wisdom literature of Israel, the books of history or the prophets, throughout the Hebrew bible one is confronted again and again with the clear outlines of what a just, compassionate and true community culture would look and function like.

Approaching the life of Jesus, the message becomes even clearer. For the sake of this reflection there seems to be no need to rehearse the long list of texts that address this divine mandate. The Messiahship of Jesus is largely defined by a radical, demanding commitment to the values of the Jubilee Year (Luke 4:14ff). Whether one considers the basis of eternal judgment as defined by Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19ff) or the consistency of his rabbinic teaching (scan the entire book of Luke!), it is very clear that the issues of compassion, fairness, adequate provision and justice filled his agenda. The early church definitely got this point (Acts 2, 4; James; Paul's work on behalf of the poor in Jerusalem; et al).

Taking its cue from these sacred texts the history of the church is replete with advocates, reformers and community developers who press hard against the various forces of injustice within society and at times within the church itself. God's messengers throughout history have understood the connections between the revelation of God and the reality of life for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.

Two undeniable aspects of this struggle for me involve the opportunities presented by life in a post-modern democratic society and the drifting irrelevance of the church, as we know it.

Freedom and the democratic opportunity to craft a truly compassionate community/societal response beyond sound bit rhetoric to pressing contemporary challenges (such as poverty, access to and disparities around health and wellness, livable wages and the results of inadequate skills for marketplace realities, child care, affordable housing and homelessness) hold out great hope and almost endless possibilities. Yet, we are failing miserably in each of these areas. The powerful engines of freedom, choice and democracy currently serve the rich, the healthy and those with access to wellness methodologies, the fully employed, the secure families and the well-housed to the obvious neglect of those left far, far behind.

In a world of opportunity, now plagued by freedom's failures, the church is largely silent as it stands mute like a shallow wading pool reflecting the values of a democratic society that systematically crushes the poor and the marginalized while waving the flags of a rabid patriotism. Ironically, at a time when the church's influence appears to be growing in the public square (even if its membership is declining in real numbers), its prophetic, practical voice comes off muted and shrill. Where is the prophetic word today from the pulpits of Dallas? Who is there to speak a clear word of undeniable truth to power today in a state whose 78th legislature pillaged the poor of the few remaining benefits they could take advantage of? Is there a place for repentance, for fasting beyond the gimmicks of the latest spiritual growth regimen? Where is the biblical understanding that would drive a truly discipled people to their knees because of the suffering of the poor, the imprisoned, the naked, the sick and the stranger? Where are the prophets who would boldly challenge the court of American Royalty?

Today democracy and religion engage in a bizarre dance. The dance hall is brightly lighted. Smoke and mirrors complement the environment to cover a reality that is just out of view by design. The clerics dance with the one who invited them in hopes of securing new funds while creating a truly Christian nation to the glory of God! All the while the numbers of the dispossessed grow. The suffering continues. Important subjects such as programmatic scale in the face of the overwhelming numbers or the efficiency of comprehensive public policy strategies never arises in any of the significant conversations and, thus, is never achieved. The night of celebration ends in prayer and everyone returns home full, honored and satisfied . . . except for Lazarus who remains unseen outside the gate.

-Larry James

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