Why the Quartet of the Vulnerable?: insights on justice by Nicholas Wolterstorff

Reginald Marsh - downtrodden masses

As I prepared my message on the prophet Amos this past weekend at Eastbrook, I read widely and returned to some material I had read years before. Here is an insightful piece form Nicholas Wolterstorff‘s fantastic book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs.

A striking feature of how the Old Testament writers talk about justice is the frequency with which they connect justice, both primary and rectifying, with the treatment of widows, orphans, resident aliens, and the poor. Alike in the presentation of the original legal code, in the accusations by the prophets of violations of the code, and in the complaints of the psalmist about violations, some or all of the members of this quartet regularly get special attention when justice, mishpat, is under discussion.

In Deuteronomy 24:17 Moses enjoins the people, “You shall not deprive the resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge” (cf. Exodus 22:21-22). In Deuteronomy 27:19 the priests call out, in a ritualized cursing cermony, “Cursed by anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice,” to which the people say, “Amen.” In Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah of Jerusalem says:

Seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

And in 10:1-2 (a passage already quoted) he excoriates those

who make iniquitous decrees,
who write oppressive statues,
to turn aside the needy from justice,
and to robe the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
and that you may make the orphans your prey!

The theme is too pervasive in these writings, and too familiar by now to most readers, to need further elaboration.

The widows, the orphans, the resident aliens, and the impoverished were the bottom ones, the low ones, the lowly. That is how Israel’s writers spoke of them. Given their position at the bottom of the social hierarchy, they were especially vulnerable to being treated with injustice. They were downtrodden, as our older English translations nicely put it. The rich and the powerful put them down, tread on them, trampled them. Rendering justice to them is often described as “lifting them up.”

The prophets and the psalmist do not argue the case that alleviating the plight of the lowly is required by justice. They assume it. When they speak of God’s justice, when they enjoin their hearers to practice justice, when they complain to God about the absence of justice, they take for granted that justice requires alleviating the plight of the lowly. They save their breath for urging their readers to actually practice justice to the quartet of the vulnerable low ones.

[Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 75-76.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 29 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

lincoln_bible_-_front“A Bible Owned by Lincoln, Unknown to Historians for 150 Years, Goes on Display
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– Via The Smithsonian: “Seven years after her husband was assassinated, Mary Todd Lincoln presented his friend and neighbor, the Reverend Noyes W. Miner, with a special gift: an 18-pound Bible, adorned with a hand-tooled leather cover and gilt-edged pages, that had once belonged to the president. The Bible remained in Noyes’ family, unbeknownst to historians, for 150 years. But the precious the artifact has now been gifted to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Illinois, where it went on display for the first time this week.”

 

_107156925_ab_index_promo_976_v5-nc“The Arab world in seven charts: Are Arabs turning their backs on religion?” – From BBC News: “Arabs are increasingly saying they are no longer religious, according to the largest and most in-depth survey undertaken of the Middle East and North Africa. The finding is one of a number on how Arabs feel about a wide range of issues, from women’s rights and migration to security and sexuality. More than 25,000 people were interviewed for the survey – for BBC News Arabic by the Arab Barometer research network – across 10 countries and the Palestinian territories between late 2018 and spring 2019. Here are some of the results.”

 

hong kong christian hymn“With Hymns and Prayers, Christians Help Drive Hong Kong’s Protests” – “Christianity has had a striking influence in demonstrations against a proposed law that would allow extraditions to mainland China. A hymn called ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ has become an unofficial anthem of demonstrations against a proposed extradition law.”

 

refugee crisis“The Global Refugee Crisis Hit a Record High. The US Welcome for the Persecuted Is at a Record Low” – From Christianity Today: “In just a few years, the United States has gone from a world leader in refugee resettlement to only admitting a fraction as many as it once did—a shift that has allowed fewer persecuted Christians and other religious minorities into the country. On Thursday, World Refugee Day, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared a record-high 70.8 million people were displaced last year. Despite pleas from evangelicals, the Trump Administration continued to restrict the number of refugees admitted in the country to fewer than half of what it had been for decades.”

 

Congregation at church praying“Donations to ‘religion’ declined $2 billion in 2018 after years of growth: study” – “Giving to houses of worship, denominational bodies and religious television and radio declined in 2018 after years of growth as individual Americans donated about $3 billion less than they did in 2017 under a new federal tax code, according to a new study.  The Giving USA Foundation, an arm of the Giving Institute, released its 2019 annual report on philanthropy in the U.S. conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy on Tuesday. The study is the longest-running and most comprehensive report on charitable giving in the United States. It finds that total overall charitable giving in the country rose 0.7 percent to an even higher record level of nearly $428 billion actual dollars in 2018. But when inflation is accounted for, the study finds that total giving in 2018 declined by 1.7 percent from a record level in 2017.”

 

Thorncrown Chapel“9 Exceptional Works of Worship Architecture in the United States” – “Let’s get this out of the way: God-honoring worship can happen anywhere—a strip mall, a bowling alley, a rented high-school cafeteria, wherever. And the how—worshiping Jesus in spirit and in truth—is far more important than the where. But in 2,000 years, the global church has created some awesome architectural spaces that glorify God just by being. And in about a tenth of that time, the United States has produced a few as well.”

 

MusicBryce Dessner and André de Ridder, “Lachrimae,” from St. Carolyn by the Sea.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

85517“When Gospel Music Sparked a ‘Worship War'” – I began my calling into vocational ministry as a music director at a church after serving as a worship leader in various settings. Music is always divisive because it ties into personal tastes, cultural perspectives, and communicates things to people beyond just the sounds and words. Kathryn Kemp writes about how the Great Migration in the early 20th century impacted the life of African American churches and sparked a ‘worship war’ of sorts during that time. This is fascinating reading for the influence that gospel music had at that time and into the church today.

 

Multicultural friends group using smartphone with coffee at university college break - People hands addicted by mobile smart phone - Technology concept with connected trendy millennials - Filter image“How Facebook Deforms Us” – I gave up Facebook over two years ago and have never wanted to go back. What I realized is that it was subtly shaping me and others into the sort of person that I did not want to be. L. M. Sacasas gets to this in his astute review of Siva Vaidhyanathan‘s new book, Antisocial Media: How Facebook Disconnects Us and Undermines Democracy. Sacasas’ thoughtful engagement with Vaidhyanathan, as well as other notable authors, provides a meaningful essay on the challenges we all face with a system of social media over which we exert limited control while it simultaneously exerts control over us.

 

image04newamericans“CIVA December Featured Artist” – The featured artist for Christians in Visual Arts (CIVA) in December is Asher Imtiaz, a portrait and documentary photographer from Pakistan currently working in the US (and a member of the church I pastor, Eastbrook Church). Describing his work, Imtiaz writes, “I believe the human face is the greatest of landscapes to capture.” Click here see more of his photography and to read about his work at the CIVA website. You could also visit his personal website here.

 

pew-846021_640“Why Evangelicals Should Care More About Ecclesiology” – Someone shared this article from a few years back with me, and my wife, Kelly, and I have been talking about it ever since. Tish Harrison Warren, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary, suggests that one of the significant factors in the crisis of moral leadership in the evangelical church today is a failure of institutional accountability. This is particularly a problem where there are not clear lines of authority within denominational structures or episcopal layers of authority. Warren’s argument is important to her out, even if there are similar issues with failure in moral authority in church contexts with institutional accountability (e.g., Roman Catholic sex abuse scandal). The fundamental dearth of ecclesiological thinking in evangelicalism is the heart of the issue, it seems to me.

 

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“People of African descent face ‘dire picture’ of racism in EU” – “Almost a third of people of African descent polled in a new EU survey say they have experienced racial harassment in the last five years, a report that claims racial discrimination is ‘commonplace’ across 12 European countries reveals. People of African descent face ‘a dire picture’ of discrimination in housing, the workplace and everyday life, the survey of 5,803 people by the European Union’s fundamental rights agency states.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-12 at 10.53.15 AM“Stephen Colbert’s conversion from atheism back to Catholicism” – Late Night television host and comedian, Stephen Colbert, talks with Father James Martin about his return to Catholicism from atheism, which was sparked by having someone hand him a pocket New Testament on the wintry streets of Chicago at an anxious season in his life.

 

higgins-inklings-243x300.jpg“An Inherently Meaningful Cosmos” – For those who follow the Oxford scholarly group knowns as the Inklings – that group gathered around the nucleus of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien – you begin to notice certain themes return in many of their works. Certainly the engagement with fantasy is there, but those familiar with “the other Inkling,” Charles Williams, begin to notice attention to Arthurian legends. A recent collection of essays on this theme, The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, & Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain edited by Sørina Higgins, receives worthy attention in a review by Ben Lockerd.

 

85542“Christianity Today’s 2019 Book Awards” – There are so many booklists floating around these days that it is hard to know which of them to pay attention to. John Wilson always has one of the most diverse and interesting favorites listsMaureen Corrigan pulls together a great look at some of the best books of 2018 at NPREnglewood Review of Books offers a fun Advent Calendar of the best books of the year.  In the midst of the many, I always appreciate Christianity Today’s annual book awards, which helps me pay attention to some of the most insightful biblical-theological books, as well as helps for discipleship and the life of faith. This year is no exception.

 

merton“Merton & Blake, Revisited” – Michael Higgins looks at two of the most fascinating and enigmatic characters within church history of the last 250 years: Thomas Merton and William Blake. Blake’s imagination-laden approach to Christian faith during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and Merton’s iconoclastic monastic faith during the mid-20th century has attracted many interested readers and scholars. Leaning more to an examination of Merton, Higgins wonders why he still fascinates us? Higgins suggests the “stark and vibrant display of paradox is part of his enduring appeal.”

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 1 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

jo saxton“Calling Versus Narcissism” – In this ten-minute message given at Q Ideas, Jo Saxton reflects on the slight difference between calling and narcissism. Building off of the myth of Narcissus and the contemporary discussion of the narcissistic personality disorder, Saxton speaks to Christians about how we can view calling through the eyes of God, and authentically position our service for the good of others.

 

Jean Pierre Gatera“He Led Churches in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp. Now He Waxes Floors” – You will be moved by this powerful account of Jean Pierre Gatera, a bivocational pastor in the US, who is also a refugee. He spent 20 years in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya, where he pastored several congregations.

 

85361“US Missionary Killed by ‘World’s Most Isolated’ Tribe” – “A 26-year-old American missionary was killed on a remote island off the coast of India, where he attempted to share the gospel with the most isolated tribe in the world. All Nations, a Christian missions agency based in the US, confirmed that John Allen Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island after years of study and training to evangelize its small indigenous population, who remain almost entirely untouched by modern civilization.” You can read the BBC’s initial report here and updates on attempts to retrieve Chau’s body here. You can find out more about the Sentinelese people here. This also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the way that we tell missionary stories. Read Lucy Austen’s article on this dilemma, “From Jim Elliot to John Allen Chau: The Missionary-Martyr Dilemma,” over at Christianity Today.

 

img_3744_slide-6b53600232d81844eff1806355dec33c4a5e739f-s1500-c85“In Iraq, A Race To Protect The Crumbling Bricks Of Ancient Babylon” – In the midst of our series on the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church, I have spent quite a bit of time researching the history of ancient Babylon. NPR reports here on the challenges of preserving that cultural history as a result of the conflicts that have raged in the midst of Iraq over the past ten years and more.

 

luke-palmer-305434-unsplash.jpg“How to experience the Bible in a digital world” – “Spark and Echo, cofounded in 2010 by the composer Jonathan Roberts and the actor and musician Emily Clare Zempel, aims to “illuminate” every single verse of the King James Bible by the year 2030. The way it works is this: Patrons contribute funding and have a chance to mark with a ‘spark’ particular verses they would like to see ‘echoed’ by an artist, writer or musician. Then, the program commissions—and pays for—an original work based on those verses.”

 

Old-Vintage-Books“8 Works of Fiction Every Christian Should Read”Karen Swallow Prior, author of On Reading Well, shares eight fiction books that every Christian should read. You will find treasures from Charlotte Bronte, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, and Charles Dickens, as well as a few surprises. This is a fantastic list worth taking a look at for your Christmas list or just for adding to your to-read list for 2019.

 

christopher tolkien“The Steward of Middle-Earth” – Speaking of good literature, you might enjoy Hannah Long‘s fascinating reflection on the work of Christopher Tolkien, son of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. “In 1975, Christopher Tolkien left his fellowship at New College, Oxford, to edit his late father’s massive legendarium. The prospect was daunting. The 50-year-old medievalist found himself confronted with 70 boxes of unpublished work. Thousands of pages of notes and fragments and poems, some dating back more than six decades, were stuffed haphazardly into the boxes. Handwritten texts were hurriedly scrawled in pencil and annotated with a jumble of notes and corrections. One early story was drafted in a high school exercise book.”

 

Andy Crouch“Tech Wise”Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making and The Tech-Wise Family, speaks at Menlo Church about what he calls “the upgrader’s dilemma.” What is that? That dilemma is the simultaneous reality that even as technology is progressing through upgrades that astound us, other things in our world and our lives do not feel like they are progressing at all, but might be getting worse. Crouch explores the possibility that the very things that are progressing are contributing to our failure to progress in other areas.

 

151103120643-italian-elderly-man-exlarge-169“Drug overdoses, suicides cause drop in 2017 US life expectancy; CDC director calls it a ‘wakeup call'” – “Life expectancy in the United States declined from 2016 to 2017, yet the 10 leading causes of death remained the same, according to three government reports released Thursday. Increasing deaths due to drug overdoses and suicides explain this slight downtick in life expectancy, the US Centers for Disease Control says. Overdose deaths reached a new high in 2017, topping 70,000, while the suicide rate increased by 3.7%, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reports.” If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please don’t delay in reaching out for help. Find support resources here.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 September 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

melani mcalister“Look Outside America for Fresh Insight on American Evangelicals” – “Melani McAlister, a professor of American studies at George Washington University, wants to tell a broader story by looking outside American borders. Studying American evangelical missionary and humanitarian activity in Egypt, South Africa, Congo, and South Sudan, she says, reveals a movement that has always seen itself as part of a global communion. In her book, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders, McAlister applies this international lens to the past half-century of American evangelical history.”

 

puerto rico maria“The State of the Puerto Rican Church, One Year After Maria” – Gadiel Ríos reports on the challenges to the church in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and how this disaster is entirely changing the way churches do ministry. ” The church in Puerto Rico and the spiritual lives of its citizens have not been spared of all of this pain and desolation, but their story is still one of grace and love overcoming loss and suffering.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-09-19 at 10.19.57 AM“Leave no dark corner: China is building a digital dictatorship to exert control over its 1.4 billion citizens. For some, ‘social credit’ will bring privileges — for others, punishment” – If you like dystopian literature or film, Matthew Carney’s exploration of China’s in-depth digital tracking of its citizenry may intrigue you. But it also may disturb you. As others have noted, privacy may be a thing of the past, but it reaches a very new level when one’s government agenda includes this: “a vast network of 200 million CCTV cameras across China ensures there’s no dark corner in which to hide.”

 

beth moore“The Tiny Blond Bible Teacher Taking on the Evangelical Political Machine” – Emma Green interviews evangelical Bible teacher Beth Moore about her recent venture into tense conversations within evangelicalism about politics. “On a chilly Texas evening recently, Moore and I sat in rocking chairs on her porch. It was the first time she had invited a reporter to visit her home, on the outskirts of Houston. Moore, who is 61, was the consummate hostess, fussing about feeding me and making sure I was warm enough beside the mesquite-wood fire. But as we settled into conversation, her demeanor changed. She fixed her perfectly mascaraed eyes on me. ‘The old way is over,’ she said. ‘The stakes are too high now.'”

 

webRNS-Abuse-Research-46-091818“Survey shows more pastors preach about abuse in #MeToo age” – “Half of Protestant pastors say they preach to their churches about domestic and sexual violence, an increase from four years ago, when only a third said they raised the issue, a new survey shows. LifeWay Research took a detailed look at Protestant clergy’s attitudes toward abuse and harassment and what they’ve done about it, surveying 1,000 pastors by phone during the summer of 2018 as the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements dominated the news.”

 

Gettys3“Towards a Deeper Song: Why Keith and Kristyn Getty Are Helping the Church to Sing (Again)” – “Often credited with re-inventing the traditional hymn-form, they are passionate about the importance of congregational singing and how we learn truth through song. This year alone, their journey has taken them from the Global Hymn Sing to the UK Houses of Parliament and recently to their own Sing! Conference in Nashville. A few days before the conference, Keith shared more about Getty Music’s vision and why we must never stop singing.”

 

iraqi-refugees“Evangelical Leaders Denounce Trump Administration Refugee Cap, Call for Increase” – “National leaders from the Evangelical Immigration Table sent a letter asking the Trump administration to admit more refugees…The announced new cap is even lower than this year’s historic low of 45,000 for this FY 2018, and the U.S. is on track to take in fewer than 22,000 refugees this fiscal year, also a record low.” This statement was fashioned by conservative evangelicals, including Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who says: “America has long been a beacon of freedom and safety for those fleeing persecution, including many persecuted for their Christian faith, but the proposed cap of just 30,000 refugees would mean stepping back from our historic role of global leadership. We can both be a secure nation and a compassionate nation, leading the world in resettling the most vulnerable refugees who have been identified and vetted abroad and ensuring due process for those who reach our country to request asylum.”

 

closed“Let’s bring back the Sabbath as a radical act against ‘total work’William R. Black, a professor of history and religion, offers an interesting critique of our fast-paced, work-oriented culture. He writes: “We usually encounter the Sabbath as an inconvenience, or at best a nice idea increasingly at odds with reality. But observing this weekly day of rest can actually be a radical act. Indeed, what makes it so obsolete and impractical is precisely what makes it so dangerous.”

 

Bill Hybels“Here’s Who Willow Creek Chose to Investigate Bill Hybels” – This past week Willow Creek Community Church announced the leadership of the investigative team looking at the allegations against Bill Hybels reported earlier this year. “The new Willow Creek Independent Advisory Group (IAG) is co-chaired by Jo Anne Lyon, general superintendent emerita and current ambassador of The Wesleyan Church, and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals. The other two members are Margaret Diddams, provost of Wheaton College and a professor of psychology, and Gary Walter, past president of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.”

 

failure“6 Warning Signs You’re Risking A Moral Failure – And How To Avoid A Fall” – On that note, over at the Vanderbloemen Search Group’s blog, Jay Mitchell writes for those in ministry about six warning signs that may lead you into a moral failure. He follows that with three suggestions about how to safeguard yourself against such a failure. In the current climate of moral failures, both inside the church and outside the church, ministers cannot fail to pay attention to this topic.

 

blue“The Bible described it as the perfect, pure blue. And then for nearly 2,000 years, everyone forgot what it looked like” – This is not your typical exploration of Scripture. “Forty-nine times the Bible mentions a perfect, pure blue, a color so magnificent and transcendent that it was all but impossible to describe. Yet, for most of the last 2,000 years, nobody has known exactly what ‘biblical blue’ — called tekhelet in Hebrew — actually looked like or how it could be re-created.” [Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing this in the Daily Prufrock.]

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 June 2018

The “Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

82255“Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet” – “On the basis of the handwriting, Obbink and Colomo estimate that the manuscript was written in the range of A.D. 150–250. The manuscript itself is tiny, only 4.4 x 4 cm. It contains a few letters on each side from verses 7–9 and 16–18 of Mark 1. Lines of writing preserved on each side indicate that this fragment comes from the bottom of the first written page of a codex—a book rather than a scroll.”

 

4556657462_3a6ca1b8a0_b-1-375x250.jpgMiles Smith’s article “Evangelical Indifference to the Immigrant in Historical Perspective” is an important read in the current immigration debate. Smith brings much-needed context on the issues of separation of children from their families and why “even pro-slavery Christians in the slaveholding South took separating children from their parents seriously enough to publicly and regularly denounce the practice, in print and vocally in their churches.” The separation of children from parents at our borders is something we must not avoid speaking about. (Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.)

 

EDN_U2_2018_01-1480x986“The artists pushing modern stage design forward” – Over at Radio Milwaukee,Joey Grihalva chronicles how stage design in modern concerts is pushing the envelope of what’s often called the fourth wall in performance experiences. “From Es Devlin and Willie Williams’ cutting-edge production for U2’s new arena tour, to the complex choreography that David Byrne brought to the Riverside Theater, to the immersive elements of the Eaux Claires festival, to the hand-painted installations of local creative Kristina Rolander, modern stage designers are deepening the connections between musicians and fans through innovative artistry.”

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Bethlehem by Over the Rhine

Advent and Christmas always plunge me back into music and poetry, mostly, I believe, because the wonder and mystery of the incarnation cannot be expressed merely in the language of explanation and logic. Instead, this mystery stumbles beyond our words into the leaping artistry of words and melodies to help us enter into the deepest places of what the Apostle Paul described as “the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5). 

Over the RhineThe other day, I was listening through the album Blood Oranges in the Snow by the Cincinnati duo Over the Rhine. This is the third Christmas album they assembled and it still catches my imagination. Here is a song entitled “Bethlehem” from that album.

 

They write this about the song:Read More »