Monday, August 17, 2015

The Rich Fool: rugged individualist

Build bigger barns!

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

Surely you've read the Parable of the Rich Fool numerous times, and you probably learned, as I did, that we should never say, "I worked for this or gained this all by myself," and leave God, the Provider, out of the statement. We should always give thanks that God has blessed in his provision. But you may have missed a very important concept that appears twice in Jesus' words. 

Luke 12:16-21 NIV
16 And [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” 

The oldest stories in the Bible show us that people were meant to live in relationship with one another. When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden, they went together. When Cain was banished for having killed his brother Abel, he was fearful that he'd have to live alone, in hiding, or be killed in turn, but God put a mark on him to protect him in his wanderings. Every society and clan lived together in villages and extended families for protection, but also for the common good of sharing work at planting, harvest, herding, care of the sick or injured, care of the infants and elderly, feasting, worshiping, and every other function of human life. 

In England in the 1620s, Rev. John Donne, the senior pastor of St. Paul's Cathedral, wrote his famous essay with the phrases "for whom the bell tolls" and "no man is an island."

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
This deep sense of community was also true of early colonial New England. Single adults, whether never-married, separated, or widowed, were not allowed to live alone, but were placed in families for economic reasons, and frankly, to police their morals! And in the first decades of the colonies, all people were required to live in villages for mutual protection and mutual assistance, and not allowed to homestead in the wilderness. 

In the Great Depression, President Herbert Hoover pursued policies of "Rugged Individualism," which called for personal liberties with little state regulation. That sounds good until you realize that schools, safety and health, infrastructure creation and management, and police/fire/military protection are institutions that must be administered by government. That rugged individualist movement evolved into the John Birch Society ideology and we have it still, as we see with the Libertarian party. Hoover's individualist policies actually exacerbated poverty and worsened the Great Depression's economic conditions until President Franklin Roosevelt instated democratic socialist policies. A political scientist, Seymour Martin Lipset, has connected American exceptionalist theory (that rugged individualism thing) with the American Revolution, but a paper out of the University of Alberta finds fault with Lipset's conclusions.

 “To believe that our nation has always been exceptional requires a suppression of ordinary skepticism and a belief that calls for extraordinary arrogance,” wrote David Bromwich in The Nation.

Jesus told this Parable of the Rich Fool, and set the story with the man being alone, speaking with his soul. And later, speaking to himself 

Notice that the Rich Fool was an individualist. "Everything for me, by me." His alone-ness has been a dreadful concept to every society until very recently. He has no one to talk to but himself, having alienated everyone around him. That would have been a horrifying prospect to Jesus' listeners, for a person to be alone. It would have been horrifying to Rev. Donne's audience and early Americans, too. No spouse? No children? No parents or siblings? No friends? No professional colleagues? Just slaves to do your bidding but not good enough to socialize with?

The Rich Fool had done the unthinkable: he'd made himself an island. 

On one level, we see that the Rich Fool was ungrateful to God and refused to give glory to him. But that's not the point of the story. God doesn't need to have his ego stroked. He is all-sufficient and glorious without our puny help. He's not insecure about whether or not we give him credit.

The parable is about an extraordinarily arrogant millionaire or billionaire, if you will, who lived only to acquire profit, and so many possessions that he couldn't consume them for many years, and that his warehouses needed to be rebuilt. God's dread answer was that the Rich Fool's life would be required of him because he had no one to share his goods with.  "...Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"   

There was supposed to be a family, a community, a clan, a village. The care of the widows and orphans that God calls pure religion. But there was no one. Just the clod of dirt that dissolved, washed away in the sea.

There's nothing wrong with being wealthy. There is something wrong with that wealth destroying our environment, oppressing workers with slave wages and conditions, and filling the vast warehouses of the super-rich when 99 percent of the rest of us live with reduced circumstances even though we work harder and longer than we ever did. You probably aren't part of that One Percent or ruling class. So think about whose policies you support and who you vote for.

I think we know very well what Jesus would do
because he already has done it. 
So now the question becomes, What will YOU do?   

Postscript: As I finished writing this article, I saw the news story that another rich man had lost his life today. But this rich man was no fool. He left this world loved and blessed for having cheered people in hospitals. Leonard Robinson (though he shares my late grandfather's name, I don't know of a relationship) was Batman to hundreds of children and adults whose lives he touched with friendship and caring. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Top 10 Medieval Butt-Licking Cats

Why do I re-blog this Top Ten Medieval Butt-Licking Cats on this devotional site?
Four reasons:
1. Because it's funny.
2. I'm a cat lady (not too crazy, as I limit myself to two).
3. Because most of the original manuscript illuminations came from medieval religious books, painted by monastic artists.
4. Life is hard. We need to think more about the universal human experience (such as people 800 years ago surviving an even harder life than we have, yet delighting in the absurdity of a cat licking its behind, heedless of its audience), and sending their amusement down to us. Thank you. Gratefully received. 
When you finish looking at Number 2, allow yourself a mental drum roll before you look at Number 1. I believe the Lord has a sense of humor, as illustrated by his creatures (including humans). So go ahead, laugh. You know you want to.

Top 10 Medieval Butt-Licking Cats

The nastiest habit of medieval cats seen via illuminated manuscripts.

10. Regular licking

Thomas of Cantimpré, Liber de natura rerum, France ca. 1290 (Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, ms. 320, fol. 72r)

9. Licking and mouse-hunting

Ashmole Bestiary, England 13th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1511, fol. 35v)

8. Licking, mouse-hunting and bird-stealing

Bestiary, England 13th century (Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 764, fol. 51r)

7. Hey cat! Stop licking your butt on the Book of Maccabees or you’ll get an arrow!

below the cat: 1Maccabees 16:18-20. Bible, France 13th century (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

6. Otter-like cat

Bestiary, England 15th century (København, Kongelige Bibliotek, GkS 1633 4º, fol. 28v)

5. Devil and the cat worshippers licking the cat’s butt

Jean Tinctor, Traittié du crisme de vauderie (Sermo contra sectam vaudensium), Bruges ca. 1470-1480 (Paris, BnF, Français 961, fol. 1r)

4. Prayerbook cats

Hours of Charlotte of Savoy, Paris ca. 1420-1425 (NY, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.1004, fol. 125r, 172r)

3. Weirdly long tongue

Book of Hours, Lyon, ca. 1505-1510 (Lyon, BM, Ms 6881, fol. 30r)

2. Villard’s cat

Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, France ca. 1230 (BnF, Français 19093, fol. 7v)

1. Licking Cat of Apocalypse

Christ on Majesty flanked by two angels blowing trumpets of the Last Judgement and a little grey guy licking its butt. Missal, Bavaria ca. 1440-1460 (New York Public Library, MA 112, fol. 7r)

Read the original Discarding Images blog here: Ten Medieval Butt-Licking Cats 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Of sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies

© 2015 Christy K Robinson

Nothing changes in 2,000 years.

As the United Kingdom is in their few weeks of campaign season, and America is in it for 18 months, I looked up a delightful page called "Random Political Rhetoric Generator." On the third push of the button, the generator supplied this: "My opponent is conspiring with sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies."

The random words and phrases reminded me of the charge that Jesus consorted with the worst sort of people.

Matthew 9:21-22. When the Pharisees [a Jewish political party] saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew 21:31. Jesus said [to the Pharisees], "The tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." 

Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Jesus told a story about holding a feast where invited guests made excuses not to attend, so the person giving the party told his employees to go out and find the homeless and disabled, tax collectors and prostitutes and thieves, and bring them in for the best food, drink, and music of their lives.

Vote for Jesus. Of course, if you do, you'll be on the hook for conspiring with sex workers, socialists and smelly hippies.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Loveless take on love

© 2014 Christy K Robinson

Yesterday, Sept. 15, 2014, Dr. William Loveless—Bill—passed from this life and into his Sabbath in Christ. He was born in 1928, about 10 years before I would have guessed for his birthdate, from his energy and temperament.
Click this link for an article remembering him.
Dr William Loveless, 1928-2014

I first met Pastor Loveless when he was the guest speaker for a Week of Prayer at my Christian high school in the 1970s. The denomination and affiliated Christian schools were extremely legalistic in the fifties through seventies (they wised up in the eighties), and what we had been taught was that we had to perfectly reproduce Christ’s character by keeping the Law, and that although the Lord forgave our sins when we confessed, that if we re-offended, the former sins would be added back to our record (yes, we know now that that’s a false teaching, but we didn’t know it then), so the deal was to continuously search your heart to find that sin you forgot to confess, the sin that could keep you out of heaven. 

But Dr. Loveless's sermons at the Week of Prayer were all about his friend, Jesus Christ. This friend loves us with a love that won’t let us go, who both forgives and forgets sins, and by his death has reconciled us to intimacy with God now—here on earth—and for eternity. 

When I moved back to California in the 90s, I became reacquainted with Dr. Loveless when I interviewed him for a magazine article, and met him around town several times. (It took a lot of courage to call him Bill, as he asked.) I took a master’s class in English from his wife, Dr. Edna Maye Loveless. I always had a mountain of respect for them and their intellect. Bill was doing some consulting for the company I worked for about 9-10 years ago, and when I made a comment in a committee, he jumped up, excited at what I said, and called me brilliant. I don't even remember the subject, but his comment did two things: it made me feel valued and deeply complimented (I mean, coming from him, right??), and it made the boss very angry at me because the boss hadn't thought of it or said it. In that company, I was toast after that. 

During that time, I asked Bill and Edna Maye to write devotional articles for the book I was putting together, We Shall Be Changed. The daily devotionals in February were all about love. Their articles about loving one another still make me cry.

Here are two of the four Loveless devotional articles from We Shall Be Changed. 

Will You Marry Me?

By William Loveless 
Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Ruth 1:17 NEB

My dearest one: 

When we married, I had no idea who you were nor for that matter who I was. And for some strange reason, that never seemed to matter. I have always known you love and respect me. Without much outside coaching, except for the models our parents were, we have been in unity together. 

Providence put us together, because in some ways we are opposite, but over the years it is obvious to me that we share all of the deepest convictions that make life worthwhile. I love the way you comfort me when I’m unreasonable and grumpy. I love the way you “mother hen” our daughters. My family is your family and your family is my family, quite like the oft-repeated sentiments of Ruth: “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:17 NEB 

You patiently taught me how to listen by listening to me, and we have always been smooth when it comes to the management of money. Edna Maye, your warmth, charm, intellect, and clear Christian commitment have enriched me and my work more than anything else in my life. 

Even though I really didn’t know what I was doing when I saw you, truly a gorgeous vision in wedding white coming toward me that August day, I now know how much I love you. Will you marry me? 

Things I Never Expected

by Edna Maye Loveless 
I hear my lover’s voice. He comes running over the mountains, racing across the hills to me. . . . My lover speaks to me. Song of Songs 2:8-10 TEV

Dear love of my life, 

Happy surprises have added to the “I do’s”: 

Pressing my hand gently in place on your knee before maneuvering a driving function, you seem to say, “Don’t go; stay here with me.”

Your enthusiasm for shopping with me has destroyed all preconceptions about male indifference. Whether we’re seeking a quart of milk, a gallon of paint, a dress for me, some shoes for you, or a new computer, you consistently initiate dual excursions—times for renewal and bonding.

After completing a doctorate, you said it was my turn. Later, when my research project didn’t jell and I wanted to quit; you quietly responded, “You’ll always be sorry you didn’t finish. Now I’m taking you to the library to work on a new research design.” You spurred me on.

I had no idea we’d share so many conversations about what we have been reading or contented periods of quietness as we pursued reading and writing tasks.

Two people in love on their wedding day expect never to argue over money. Today, wiser and more in tune with “life,” I’m surprised those expectations about no money hassles came true. Generous and prudent—you’re an asset on any budget.

When we embarked on the unknown path of parenthood, you supplied strengths to achieve balance—more playful, more energetic, more emphatic. The girls knew where to turn when they needed your specialties.

At home, it’s a duet when we make the bed, when we entertain guests. Chalking up vast vacuuming hours, you also amaze me with your cheery whistling while mopping the floor or washing the dishes. It’s the sound of my love; I cherish it.

I’m a woman in love, who joins the love song: I hear my lover’s voice. He comes running over the mountains, racing across the hills to me. . . . My lover speaks to me. Song of Songs 2:8-10 TEV


We Shall Be Changed was published in 2010, and is now officially out of print, but you can buy new or almost-new copies of it on Amazon. I have received no royalties from sales, but I’m proud of the five-star reviews and hundreds of compliments on it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Light--A Christmas/ Midwinter Meditation

Guest post by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole

I don’t recall how old I was when someone first told me we shouldn’t put up Christmas trees or otherwise celebrate Christmas because the holiday had pagan origins and anyway, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th. If you grow up Adventist, you get exposed to opinions like these fairly early, even though such views were by no means mainstream in my church and were dismissed as foolishness by my very sensible Adventist family.

Even as a young person, it seemed to me that the timing of Christmas was far from an evil pagan plot or even an unhappy accident. True, nobody considered the date of Jesus’ birth important enough to record in Scripture, but I think the early church did exactly the right thing in holding their celebration of the Nativity at the end of December, and I think it was more than just an attempt to co-opt pagan midwinter holidays.

The image of light coming in the midst of our darkness is one of the most powerful spiritual pictures we humans have. Whether we’re lighting candles on the Advent wreath or the Hanukkah menorah, or burning a Yule log, or simply stringing up some coloured LEDs on the front of the house, we’re responding to a deep human urge to celebrate light — which is hope, and faith, and joy — when times are dark.

For those of us in northern climates this is especially true at midwinter.  Now, to be honest, I don’t think of the winter solstice, or Christmas, or anytime around the end of December as “midwinter.” Because of our climate, where Christmases are often green but Easters are frequently white, I feel winter is barely beginning in December. My worst “midwinter blues” hit around mid-February when I think how far we’ve slogged through the ice and snow and how far we have yet to go. 

But even in our late-starting, long-lasting Newfoundland winter, in a world illuminated by electric lights, I feel the burden of those dark early evenings, coming home from work with the sky already dark, waking up in morning darkness to get ready to do it all again.  I understand why our ancestors, less shielded from the rhythms of the natural world, felt the need to light candles and celebrate at the turning of the year, when the days began, imperceptibly, to lengthen again.  When the light returned.

God’s promise of light in darkness is for everyone, everywhere, all the time.  And of course it’s true that as a Christian, unlike a Jewish friend lighting Hanukkah candles or my pagan friend burning her Yule log (or a Hindu friend celebrating Diwali, at a different time of the year in a different corner of the world), I believe the truest and fullest expression of God’s light came into the world on whatever night Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Son of God, love’s pure light.  Whether He was born in the bleak midwinter or in spring or fall, He was the light that lights everyone as He comes into the world.

But the fact that I believe this and others don’t, doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m right and everyone else is wrong when they light their candles and logs and fireworks and LED lights, wherever and whenever and whyever they do it.  If we close the stable door and say that only in that one room, on that one night, was the Light of the World fully present and incarnate … well, light will still leak out under and around the stable door.  Light is like that. Grace is like that.  God’s presence is everywhere, no matter how we try to shut Him away or box Him up.  He is present in every light that shines in darkness. The humblest candle burning on a midwinter night speaks of the hope He brings … and so, in a faint and faraway fashion, does even the light-up, blow-up, tacky glowing Santa on the lawn of a neighbour who professes no faith in any god but the God of Shopping, and worships nowhere but at the mall.

We light lights because we believe, or because we want to believe.  And light calls forth what’s best in us — hope, faith, joy — giving us hints of the true Light, that shines in darkness and can never be put out.
Click the guest author's by-line to link to their other writing projects (books, blogs, etc.). 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Giving Up Everything for Love

Guest post by Elvia Miller

 They are a small group of three- to five-year-old children that I teach every Wednesday. There are about eight of them, six who come consistently. We usually cover the same stories. Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus is God. I learned the stories myself as someone who loved the Lord told of the story… and yet the magnitude of it never really sank in until much later.

“God has a plan” and “Everything happens for a reason” are platitudes we use to comfort or explain. I marvel at the plans of God and how everything fits together. I had known that I was going to teach of Christmas because what else was I going to teach…Easter? That was a no-brainer.

It was in another class that God started to work on my heart. The pastor taught the Cruciform Marriage class. My husband and I made the sacrifice to wake up early on Sundays for this class. I had missed the Sunday School class the week before. I had counted myself lucky that I missed the wives-submit-to-your-husbands lecture. I wasn’t left totally unscathed. This particular Sunday, we learned the second part of the passage, Ephesians 5:22-33, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The pastor painted a picture of the church as a woman. The poor thing never seemed to get it right. She was a Cinderella or Snow White who needed to be rescued. Along came the Prince who would rescue her and elevate her. But the Prince never gave up his kingdom for her. He never pretended to be a pauper to rescue her. I thought of this. It burned within me and cleansed. Jesus came for his church, his bride and it wasn’t easy—it was a sacrifice.

That night I lay in bed and cried. My husband could not console me. I just kept repeating the verse over and over. There was no explanation. The verse said it all. I pictured Hosea, the prophet who was commanded to love a harlot. He was the example of how God loved us even before Jesus made His appearance. We are a fickle bunch, loving everything and everyone except the One we were created to love; God, who saves us even when we are wrong. He is God who saves us even though we are harlots to this world.

As I prepared to begin the children’s Bible lesson, I glanced down at their faces. Their sweet innocence was marked and their eyes were open wide, awaiting the message. I prayed. I prayed that they be like the good soil and understand the story that they will hear so many times. I prayed that it would not just be a story for them but an understanding.

I asked them, “Who is your favorite superhero?” The answers varied: Bob the Builder, Green Lantern, Hulk. I threw in Superman and Batman. They got excited talking about those they considered heroes. We talked about their super powers and what they could do. We talked about how they save people. Then I asked, “What if they had to give up all their special powers in order to save us?” The children looked confused. Why ever would a superhero give up their powers? Why ever would someone give up what made them special and be normal, and be humbled. I told them it was a sacrifice. Who would you give up your super power for? Most of them answered with family members, but it would have to be for a really good reason. What if you had to give up your super power for someone who had wronged you? It was beyond their comprehension. I left it hanging there and hoped the seed would grow in their hearts.

Christmas is about the Son of God, the Prince of Peace giving up more than his super powers, giving up his God-ness, to save us, a people who can’t seem to get anything right.

I learned about Christmas through teaching little ones about Christmas. I wonder about Jesus now. How much harder was it to know that he was God stuffed into the body of an infant? How much harder was it to know that he was King and to be rejected by his own people, his church, his bride? To know, even though he was young, that he was like a lamb sent to the slaughter? This truth is the essence of the Gospel. It’s such a privilege to teach this truth to young minds. It is through teaching that we teach ourselves sometimes. Praise the Lord!
Elvia Miller is a wife, mom, elementary school educator, Bible teacher, choir soprano, jogger, friend, and daughter of God.


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