“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Today I am participating in a syncroblog with Esther Emery and Newell Hendricks who are leading a discussion on how we – who are privileged – enjoy the benefits of our privilege at the expense of others in our own communities and around the world. The discussion is based around the first of Jesus’ eight beatitudes in Matthew 5, which happens to be part of our lectionary Gospel text this week. At the start of Jesus’ ministry during his first long discourse we know as the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus proclaims: “blessed are those who are poor in spirit” – or as Newell and Esther suggest: have the “spirit of the poor” – “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In some translations, the Greek word makarios, or “blessed,” is translated as “happy,” “fortunate,” or “privileged.” However, a better translation of makarios is “in a position of favor” or to be more specific: “having feelings associated with receiving God’s favor.” In other words, as Jesus begins his ministry of proclaiming the good news, he is declaring that those who are poor in spirit are receiving God’s favor and therefore experience feelings of happiness or gratitude.
If you really think about this, it sounds like quite an aversive and heartless claim on Jesus’ part: to say that those who are poor physically (and due to their physical poverty are thus also spiritually poor) are happy or grateful because they are receiving God’s favor. How on earth could those struggling just to put a healthy meal on their table, to find a safe and warm place to sleep on a freezing winter night, or to receive a fair working wage that can pay for adequate family health care be receiving God’s favor (and thus be grateful about it) when there are others around the world (the top 1%) who own 65 times the amount of the poorest half of the world?
Yet, this blessing – or favor – is not just referring to the current condition of those Jesus speaks of – the condition of one being poor in spirit and/or living in poverty. Rather, this blessing/favor is connected with and dependent upon the second clause in the sentence: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God in which Jesus – after he has been tempted in the desert – proclaims has come near and is bringing light to those experiencing the darkness of this world…
Theirs is this kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God we pray about in the prayer Jesus taught us to pray: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…
Theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the same kingdom of God that Jesus – “God with Us” in the flesh – has begun to bring about on earth by proclaiming good news to the poor and marginalized and then commissioning all of his followers to go and do likewise.
Those who are poor in spirit (or who have the “spirit of the poor”) are gratefully enjoying God’s favor because to receive God’s favor is to receive the kingdom of heaven which is being realized in both the “here and now” and that which is to come… This is the same kingdom in which those who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome in the stranger, and give clothing to the naked – to the least of these – will indeed inherit. … And this is the same kingdom in which all who claim to follow Jesus are called to participate in bringing forth by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
Having a “spirit of the poor” means that we must participate in this “kingdom-of-heaven-on-earth bringing” and “justice doing” that is required of us – which starts with recognizing and acknowledging our own privilege and the consequences and impacts our privileged lifestyles have on others around the world. Once we recognize this privilege, we must then grieve it. This does not mean we need be held captive by our own guilt: being dominated by guilt only holds us back from making things right in the world. Rather, we are to lament over our participation in privileged lifestyles that oppress others and let our grief move us forward in righting wrongs and doing justice so that all of God’s children are treated fairly and able to live holistically.
As we explore and acknowledge our privilege and how such advantages that we enjoy contribute to the oppression of others, it is easy to become overwhelmed at how and where we should start to disarm such unjust practices and systems.
Thus, we must remind ourselves that this work cannot be done alone: it must be done as a community effort. As Cindy Brandt puts it:
“Justice work can never be done in isolation, but requires the efforts of all the players in society: artists, musicians, politicians, journalists, businessmen and women, educators, parents, and children. It can only be done in community with ordinary people with extraordinary love.”
However, this “justice doing” starts with individual changes in lifestyles. And as more and more individuals start to make such changes in their own lives and educate and call others to do so, as well, these individual efforts will emerge into very powerful collective ones that can and will bring about change and justice.
To begin this kind of lifestyle change, here are a few suggested practices:
SHOP FAIR TRADE:
Purchase gifts, coffee, clothing, and jewelry that are fairly traded and empower communities, farmers, and women around the world. Click here to check out the top 10 reasons to shop fair trade.
In addition to checking out your local shops that sell fair trade items, here are some fair trade websites:
Ten Thousand Villages – fair trade items from all over the world
31 Bits – fair trade jewelry and bags from Uganda
Bead For Life – fair trade beads from Uganda
Mata Traders – fair trade jewelry, clothes, and home decor from India
B. Salsa Handcraft – fair trade Palestinian olive wood
Sindyanna of Galilee – fair trade Palestinian olive oil, soaps, and spices
*For more options, check out this post on Sarah Bessey’s blog.
Support local stores and businesses by shopping local.
AVOID SHOPPING AT STORES WITH UNETHICAL WORK PRACTICES:
Wal-Mart has had a long history of underpaying employees, creating terrible work conditions, and supporting global sweatshops (among many other unethical practices). Click here for additional information. There are many other companies that have similar practices, so do your research.
AVOID BUYING PRODUCTS THAT SUPPORT UNETHICAL PRACTICES:
There are many products and brands that are made in sweatshops with terrible working conditions and enforce child labor. For the same reasons mentioned above, do your research and avoid purchasing such items. Click the links below for more information on current product boycotts and tips on ethical shopping.
FAST FROM SHOPPING:
Fast from shopping for yourself either during Lent, Advent, or even for an entire year. We have too much STUFF that not only continues to clutter our homes, but also escalates the demand to produce more STUFF at cheap costs and at fast paces. When the demand is high for fast productivity, the demand increases for cheap labor and continues terrible working conditions. (Click here for more information about sweatshops and child labor.) Fasting from shopping helps to both decrease the productivity demand and to de-clutter and get rid of the stuff in our lives that keeps us from seeing what is really of value and importance in the world.
MOVE YOUR MONEY:
Move your money from the nation’s big banks that have unethical practices to local and ethical banks and credit unions. (Click here for more information on how to invest your money ethically.)
DECREASE ELECTRONIC USAGE:
Newell Hendricks discusses on his blog the impacts of our high electronics demands in his discussion about conflict minerals. In order to decrease the demand for conflict minerals, try to own as few electronics as possible. When you are not using these electronics, turn them off in order to maintain a longer lifespan, and recycle them when their lifespan ends. Don’t upgrade to new phones and electronics just because you can: wait until your phone, iPod/iPad, etc. dies.
INVEST IN FAIR ELECTRONICS:
There are new products that are coming out that are conflict-free. There are also many current campaigns that are pushing for a conflict-free certification process. Do your research and take action. Here are some resources to get you started:
ETHICAL ENGAGEMENTS AND WEDDINGS
Find ways to have an echo-friendly wedding. Click here for some tips on how.
In addition to divesting from conflict minerals, divest from conflict diamonds. (Click here to read more about diamonds that fund civil war.) Here are some resources for finding ethical diamonds and/or rings made from recycled materials:
PeaceOfIndigo – handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones
Metalicious – handmade rings out of recycled materials and with ethical stones
Bridal and Bridesmaid Dresses:
Purchase bridal and bridesmaid dresses that are echo-friendly or recycled. Here are some great resources:
Amanda Rose Bridal – handmade echo-friendly bridal and bridesmaid dresses from recycled materials
French Knot Couture – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses
Free Peoples – custom made bridal and bridesmaid dresses
In addition to changing daily lifestyles, take action to make changes around unjust policies and practices! Get involved in community organizing groups, research unjust practices at local and global levels, sign petitions, participate in actions and marches, share your findings with others on social media and in your congregations/organizations, and push your congregations/organizations to educate others, take action, and promote/sell/display fair-trade and ethical products.
Thank you Emily for all of your thoughtful reflections and suggestions. I especially like your comment about justice work not being done in issolation. I use the image of the foothills, the plains, and the territory beyond the distant mountains. If we climb the foothills we can see the plains. If we cross the plains, we will eventually find ourselves in a completely new place. This is a metaphore for perspective, acts of solidarity, and transfromation. There are ways to get a new perspective: participating in a blog like this is one. I got my perspective altered on a delegation to Nicaragua. But once one has a new perspcective, one can see opportunities for engaging with others in acts of solidarity. By developing this pattern of engaging with others in this way, eventually we are transformed, and can thus transform the world. So thank you for engaging with us in this discussion and offering your perspective. And I appreciate the comments you have made to others in this discussion.
Newell, I love the foothills metaphor! And it is so true… it is such a long journey… Sometimes we hear and see new perspectives along the way to the foothills, and we gather up these perspectives, carry them in our pockets, and continue on our way. (And they help us to take more and more steps toward our destination). And when we finally reach the foothills, we experience transformation. Yet, even the transformation period involves a long journey. So we continue on toward the mountains, and we gather up new perspectives and experiences and carry them in our pockets along the way. And again, when we reach the mountains, we enter a new place and experience a new transformation. (And in my experience, we can never quite go back to where we came from.) And yet, once at the mountainside, we have more journeying to go…
I love this! (Would you mind if I shared this in the future… quoting you, of course?)
Thanks, again, for beginning this discussion. I look forward to hearing more and learning from your perspectives and experiences.
Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring post here Emily. I couldn’t agree more with this ‘This does not mean we need be held captive by our own guilt: being dominated by guilt only holds us back from making things right in the world. Rather, we are to lament over our participation in privileged lifestyles that oppress others and let our grief move us forward in righting wrongs and doing justice so that all of God’s children are treated fairly and able to live holistically.’ I also love your reminder about community and justice work – this is the true job of Christ’s bride I believe – to love other’s well and looking at our own implications at how our lifestyle is not loving other’s well is part of this. I feel so grateful to go to a church whose mission statement is ‘to spread the love of Jesus in a hurting world’. And also the information is so helpful when beginning – I think back with regret to my engagment/wedding ring that 16 years ago I was beyond happy to receive and how now I would want something totally different. I feel excited by this link up – it feels so good to feel inspired to love more!
Thanks, Leah! I definitely struggle with the tension of my own privilege and feeling guilt because of it. Yet, I continue to work at allowing my grief (rather than guilt) over the negative impacts of my privilege move me to take a strong stance for and with others who are suffering and marginalized.
I love the mission statement of your church! My hope is for all congregations to get to a place where their mission is to do just that.
I am excited about this link-up, as well, and look forward to hearing and learning more from your experiences and perspectives! Thanks for connecting!
Of course. Using each others stories and thoughts is what this discussion is all about. No need to worry about a quoting. I am a firm non believer in intellectual property rights.
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