A couple days ago, I started reading a book a friend gave me, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. This is one of the few “rock your world” books I’ve read. (For starters, think Mother Theresa meets Willow Creek Community Churchl; imagine the culture shock going from one to the other. Shane spent three months working with “Momma T” in a Calcutta leper colony, then did a one-year internship in Chicago with Willow Creek. At least he was able to see Jesus in both places!) As I’m reading, I’m struck by this guy’s radical belief that we’re actually supposed to take Jesus seriously! Do you mean to tell me that when Jesus told the righteous rich kid to sell everything he had and give it to the poor…he actually meant it?!? Claiborne seems to think so!
For the past year or so, I have been doing an unusual (for me) amount of thinking about wealth and poverty, freedom and oppression, West and East, America and Africa. I think it really started when our pastor at Imago Dei Community, Rick McKinley, did a series on Isaiah 61, a passage about freedom from oppression, which Jesus read in the synagogue and then had the audacity to claim was fulfilled in himself right then and there! Ever since then, my eyes have been opened to the fact that God actually cares about the poor…so much so, in fact, that he wants me to do something about it. And not just me, but all his people. This idea is rampant in the prophets (at least in Isaiah and Jeremiah, which are all I’ve read so for for school). Over and over again, God tells the Israelites to break down oppression wherever they see it. Surprisingly, it seems, it is the Israelites themselves – remember, those folks that were rescued by God from the oppression in Egypt – who are guilty of oppressing. And the ones they’re guilty of oppressing are, ironically, themselves. And, of course, it’s the leaders – the “shepherds” – who are oppressing the poorer ones. Hmmm…I guess there really isn’t anything new under the sun. What is grabbing me, though, is not just that God cares about freeing people, but that he wants me to work toward that end. And you, probably; certainly you, if you are in any sense a leader of God’s people.
Here’s a big part of the challenge for me, though: I’m clearly a part of that “oppressing” group – I’m white, I’m a guy, I’m a Christian (and, gasp!, an evangelical Christian), I’m American, I’m middle class, I’m wealthy (at least compared to most of the world), I’m a Republican (though that may change)…and I’ve spent the last 14 years in the financial industry, helping people get rich, invest their riches, manage their riches, and distribute their riches to their rich kids. Maybe I’m that righteous rich kid Jesus met!
Reflecting on his transition from Calcutta to Chicago, Claiborne writes, “I knew that we could not end poverty until we took a careful look at wealth. I was to battle the beast from within the belly.” That’s where I find myself…in the belly of the beast. The question I wrestle with is, how can I confront oppression from the inside?
To be continued….