Church Write-Up: Journey and Desperation; Poverty and Homelessness; Ascending and Descending

Here is my Church Write-Up about last Sunday.

A. At the LCMS church, the pastor told a personal anecdote. He was traveling to find himself, and he was on an interstate. He kept on driving to see how long his gas would hold, when the car was running on empty. He was confident that a gas station would be nearby, since this was an interstate. But he crossed the state line, and the rest of the interstate had not been built yet. He was desperate and prayed to God, and he found a small gas station in the backwoods.

The pastor drew some spiritual lessons from this experience. First of all, he reflected on how God is at work in the stuff of everyday life. God ordained for this gas station to be built for him and others. Second, the pastor drew parallels between his experience and that of the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes. The author was on his own search for meaning and had hit a lot of dead ends, which he found wealth and pleasure to be. He found meaning when he acknowledged God as the provider. In the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:23-34. The rich young ruler obviously had some dissatisfaction, since he was coming to Jesus and inquiring about eternal life. But he had not yet reached the state of desperation that the pastor reached years before on his journey, and which Qoheleth reached: the rich young ruler still clung to his possessions for meaning rather than giving them up and following Jesus, as Jesus requested.

B. At the LCMS Sunday school, there was a class about poverty and homelessness. This is a two-week class, and it is setting the stage for the church’s work with an organization to ameliorate homelessness. We watched mini-documentaries and took quizzes. The first mini-documentary profiled families who are struggling with poverty. The parent or parents work full-time, but so much of their income goes to rent, that they and their kids do not get enough food. Some of the families cannot afford health insurance, yet they make too much to qualify for state insurance.

The quiz served to highlight how prevalent poverty is, hitting more than ten percent of the U.S. population. Many of its victims are families with children. Child care is too expensive for them. The minimum wage, even the relatively high minimum wage in Oregon, is not enough for them to meet their needs. There is also a drastic shortage of low-income housing for those who need it.

The facilitator warned us that the second mini-documentary would be controversial. This church is rather conservative, so I wondered how people there processed it. It started by narrating how slavery hindered African-Americans from forming long-term families, and they were freed, without skills. In the early twentieth century, working class neighborhoods were more integrated than they are today, as people moved to where there was work. But the federal and state governments encouraged segregation by only lending to areas that were homogeneous and by treating neighborhoods with African-Americans as too risky. Because money for schools was based on the local tax base, public schools in poor African-American areas were poorly funded. One African-American lady said that her parents had masters degrees and, unlike most people at her school, she did not grow up on welfare. Still, in second grade, she had six teachers in one year, and she tested a few years behind where she should have tested. Low-skilled jobs have moved to the suburbs. The reason that there is high crime in poor areas is that a lot of people are concentrated there, and these areas have few jobs.

C. At the “Word of Faith” church, the pastor began a series on the Book of Acts. A significant point in Acts is that God invites all kinds of people to his table. The pastor went into other issues, though. He was talking about his recent trip to Japan. A person with whom he conversed there rejected Christianity because American Christianity is about “I,” whereas Japan is about “we.” The pastor learned in the course of the conversation that this person hated Americans. We all hate someone, the pastor said, and that is why we need Jesus. The pastor also offered an interpretation of John 1:51, in which Jesus tells disciples that they shall see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. The “Son of Man,” in this case, is the body of Christ, the church. What descends on them is the Word of God, and what ascends to God is the fruit of the Word of God: people’s confession, the changed lives, etc. I wouldn’t promote this interpretation in an exegesis paper, but it was interesting.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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