Some religion, some meditation, maybe a little philosophy...

Privilege Part 2

As I’ve been parsing my privilege, I have realized that it starts at birth.  We won’t even consider the fact that I am a white American born citizen descended from generations of the same.  Those points of privilege are a given.  Anyone who doesn’t realize what advantages come with them just isn’t paying attention.  

My first privilege was a stable home environment.   I was born to a happily married couple of honest hardworking people.  They didn’t marry until they were 30 and 31.  They had known each other for about five years.  I was born a year later and from that day until my father died, I never heard them argue, never saw them angry with each other.  I’m not saying they never disagreed, just that they worked out their problems quietly and without letting it affect us kids.  As far as we could tell, our parents had the perfect marriage that lasted more than 35 years. 

Part of that stability was the fact that, even though we were never well off, we always had a clean, comfortable home and plenty to eat.  With five children and a limited income, it wasn’t easy but my parents saw to it that we always had what we needed and, at least, some of what we wanted.  They also instilled good values and a strong work ethic in us, mainly by setting an example.

My second privilege was being fortunate enough to be born healthy with no disabilities.  My aunt and uncle had a stillborn daughter and a son with spina bifida.  I had another aunt who had severe scoliosis.   Three of my four brothers were also born healthy and strong, but the other one was subject to seizures that eventually got so severe they had to be controlled with medication for years.  Two of them had dyslexia at a time when no one knew what it was.  They never did learn to read well which limited their employment opportunities.

Consider how many people in this country, never mind other parts of the world, are raised in broken homes or are mired in poverty.  How many have parents who fail to give them good values or the loving attention that every child needs.  Look around at the number of people who must deal with limiting handicaps all their lives.  Think of how many families are homeless or living in refugee camps.  

I have only scratched the surface of the myriad ways that my life has been filled with advantages.  Things that I, like most people, have usually taken for granted; and being able to do that is a privilege all by itself.  I’m not done yet with this subject.  Stay with me.  Part 3 next week.

 

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Categories: For Your Consideration, Meditations, Memoirs | 2 Comments

Privileged?

We’ve been hearing a lot about “Privilege” lately.  It’s been thought provoking for me.  If it hasn’t for you, if you’ve rejected the concept or just ignored it, then you are coming from a place of privilege.  I know that I am privileged in many ways, in some others not so much.  I also know what privilege looks like from the other side because I’ve been there.  

When I decided this subject should be my next post, the first thing I did was go looking for a dictionary definition.  The fact that I had so many sources easily available is another sign of privilege.

“A separate and personal advantage.” From the Webster’s abridged edition that I keep on my desk.

“A right or benefit that is not available to everyone. 2. the advantages enjoyed by an elite group.” From the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary that was a required book for one of my college courses.

“A special or peculiar benefit, favor, or advantage. 2. An exemption or immunity by virtue of one’s office or station.” From the Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary that lives on my reference book shelf.

A right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.” from dictionary.com

Then I began to make a list of all the ways I know that I, personally, am now and have always been privileged.  It got very long.  As I thought about it, I realized there are also ways that I am privileged now, but wasn’t always.  There are even ways that I used to be privileged that no longer apply.  

As I was leaving home to day to pick one of my toddlers up from preschool, I was still mulling over the subject and saw a perfect example of a complexity of two.  I was backing out of my driveway in the mini-van I purchased specifically to have room for multiple car-seats, another evidence of my privilege. 

As I looked behind me, I saw a young girl, maybe 11 or 12, walking down the sidewalk across from my house.  She looked cold and miserable.  Her arms tight against her side, hands folded in front of her, strings of blond hair blowing in the chill wind.  She was obviously heading home from school, her backpack slung from her shoulders, in the middle of the day.  Behind her walked a woman, equally unhappy looking.  

I wondered whether she was sick or in trouble.  You couldn’t really tell from their expressions.  It could have been either.  What was evident was that the school had called for someone to come get the child and the woman had no transportation so she had to walk to the school, then back home again.  If the girl was in trouble, her situation got worse.  If she was sick, she wouldn’t improve walking 6 blocks or more in the cold. She looked at me from the corner of her eyes without turning her head and I had deja vu.  

Only I was the one on the sidewalk, waiting in the cold or the rain for a city bus because I didn’t have a car, watching the people in their cars sail past, and feeling such envy, bitterness, misery.  For a brief moment, I was right back there and I realized, even then I was enjoying privilege. This small town has no bus system for people who don’t have cars to use.  It’s either walk, pay for an expensive taxi or beg rides from others.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but I was fortunate to have access to public transportation, to have a job which made it possible for me to afford the bus, and paid for a place to live along with food for my daughter and myself.  There are many other people in this country who don’t have those things. Even then, at one of my lowest points, I was enjoying privilege.

There are a million ways that we enjoy privilege every day without noticing. We just take for granted our safe homes, warm beds, hot showers, clean clothes, etc.  We walk out our doors without feeling the need to scan the street first to be sure it’s safe.  We get into our cars and drive to our destinations without concern for roadside bombs or blitz attacks.

Privilege.  I think this is going to be a series.  I feel the need to explore all the ways privilege can apply without the person enjoying it even realizing it exists.  Some people would claim that they have earned their security and comfort but, as I continue, I hope to demonstrate that being able to earn it is another sign of privilege.

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Categories: Current Events, For Your Consideration, Meditations | Leave a comment

Bible Study Resources

To truly understand God’s Word requires more than simply reading a convenient copy of it as though it were a history or biography.  Ideally, to delve deep and truly understand, we would read the texts in their original languages.  For most of us, that is impossible.  Even if such copies were readily available to us all, we simply don’t have the necessary language skills.

Fortunately, people who do have those skills and access to original copies, have done the work for us.  That is why there are so many Bible versions available today.  Respected scholars, regularly, go back to the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic sources and retranslate them in an attempt to clarify God’s Word. Today, there are so many different versions, it can be a chore just to make a choice between them.  

Since I am not good at making such a choice, I own many Bibles. They range from the lyrical King James version that I grew up with, to a Living Bible which is a paraphrased version meant to be easier to read.  Some of them I bought, some were gifts, and some I inherited from my mother.  However, the ones I use the most were purchased over the course of the past ten years.  

They are study Bibles.  In addition to the footnotes that you find in almost any version, they have extensive background on the text:

  • Explanations by experts as to when they believe the books were written and by whom.  
  • Context as to the historical periods, the cultural and political forces of the time.  
  • Explanations as to why a certain turn of phrase was chosen over the older form.  
  • References to other books of the Bible that have similar wording and scenes.  
  • Background information that helps us to understand why the author included this story and what it means to us today.

I actually own five such Bibles:

  • The first one, The New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, is a softback copy that I purchased for use with a Sunday School class I was enrolled in at the time.  It’s lightweight and convenient for carrying around. 
  • The second one, Today’s Parallel Bible, I bought as a response to all those confusing choices.  I wanted a simple way to compare the wording of several versions at once.  It contains four versions, including the King James (KJV) that is still my favorite.  
  • The third one lives on my nightstand. It is The Harper Collins Study Bible, a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). I bought it because I had settled on it as the one I was going to use for my personal studies.
  • The fourth one, The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible with Apocrypha, also a softback and an NRSV, was a required text for a college course I took.  
  • The fifth one,  The Archaeological Study Bible is an NIV and was a Christmas gift from my daughter, Jeanne.  I had it on my Amazon wish list, intending to buy it myself, and she beat me to it.  I am finding it invaluable.  It goes even beyond the normal study Bible.  It not only expands on things with cross references to other biblical sources and explanations that scholars have researched or interpreted about the text, but also includes secular writings to back up the historicity of the Bible and information about how other ancient religions related to ours.  

As I continue with my Lenten commitment to follow the Lectionary readings every day, the Archaeological Bible is the one I am using.  It helps me to dig deeper into the contexts of what was written and relate it to our modern day lives.  As I post here over the next few weeks, I will try to explain my thoughts and feelings about what I’m finding.  Please, join me on my road to Easter.  I hope you find it, at the least, an interesting trip.

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Searching for Prayer

Over the years, I’ve said the Lord’s Prayer thousands of times.  I’ve taken part in study groups that discussed it.  The consensus being: we frequently tend to simply recite it without thinking about the meaning of the words.  The second factor being: it was never meant to be an actual prayer, but an example of how to pray.  I was looking for a book that would take this idea and expand upon it. 

This month, I’ve been using “Lord Teach Me to Pray in 28 Days” by Kay Arthur for a kind of devotional study.  I bought this book a couple of years ago and this is my third attempt to finish it.  Each time before, I’d get bogged down or distracted, start letting it slide and, eventually leave it on my nightstand to be buried under other books.  This time, I made a commitment, as part of my Lenten observance, to finish it.  I am nearly there.  The book has 28 chapters, obviously, plus four sets of group discussion questions at the back.  Perhaps I would have gotten more out of it in a group setting.

This time, I scanned quickly through the earlier chapters and my notes on each.  As I looked back over them, I found the Lord’s Prayer breakdown I have studied before in Days 3 through 5. It didn’t vary much from previous classes, but it didn’t really expand on them either.  Days 6 through 8 seemed to be general information about the names of God and why we should worship Him. Interesting, but not what I was looking for. Day 9 is where I started to part ways with Arthur.  It was here that she first said, basically, that non-Christians have no right to pray (page 53). The furthest I ever made it before was Day 9. I think this idea may have been the reason I quit reading last time.  I decided that I should give her a fair hearing.  Even though the book wasn’t what I hoped for, I am strong enough in my belief to listen to other points of view.

After my quick review on Tuesday, I started with Day 10 on Ash Wednesday.  I am now on Day 18 and, while I still intend to finish it, I am not in agreement with much of what I’m reading.  Arthur makes some interesting points and I have found some value in what she is saying, but, during this last section, I find myself frequently disagreeing with her premises. I don’t mean to say the book isn’t valuable or that what she says is, necessarily, wrong.  I am simply saying that I don’t agree with some parts of it and, overall, I am not finding it helpful to my current purposes.

I was looking for something that gave me guidance on constructing prayers, on breaking down that Lord’s Prayer “outline” and using it to make my own prayers more meaningful.  Arthur’s purpose seems to be more about getting measurable answers to prayer.  Knowing that God answers prayers is great.  Being able to point to a given situation and say, “Here’s God’s answer!” would be amazing.  But, that’s not what I’m looking for and, as I said, I find myself disagreeing with her opinions at times.  

I know she is a well respected religious teacher and award winning author but, I was raised with the idea that we are not to have blind faith in our leaders.  Each of us is responsible for reading the Bible and drawing our own conclusions.  At the end, we are the ones who must answer to God and He will not excuse us for our sins because we listened to someone else’s interpretation of His Word. So, by my understanding, I have, not only a right, but a duty to disagree.  

First of all, I don’t believe that God doesn’t listen to sinners, that “prayer is a privilege reserved for those that are truly children of God.”  I believe that we are all children of God.  Some of us have a better relationship with Him than others, but He still listens even to those who have turned their backs on Him.  Such is what Jesus meant when He told the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 3-32).  He wanted so much for us to understand this precept that he gave us all three examples on one occasion. 

Secondly, I believe that God hears all prayers.  I can even say I believe that He answers all prayers.  It’s just that we don’t pay enough attention and that we don’t want to accept that sometimes He says, “NO.”  Arthur quotes several verses that, basically, say “Ask and ye shall receive,” but she seems to gloss over the “Thy will by done” aspect.  She appears to think that, if we don’t get the answer we want, it’s because we aren’t real Christians. I can’t begin to address how wrong that seems to me.

I am not finished with the book.  I still have ten more days to go.  Perhaps she will address my conflicts later on but, what I’ve read so far doesn’t seem to agree with my ideas of what the scripture teaches us.  Nevertheless, as I have said, I have found value in some of what I’ve read.  The fact that I disagree with some of her conclusions means she has made me define more clearly my own beliefs and that also has value.

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Beginning My Lenten Journey

Today is Ash Wednesday.  I’ve begun my Journey to draw closer to God.  I am no expert, but I humbly offer my feelings and interpretations of the current study.  The Lectionary readings for today are: Isaiah 58:1-12, Psalm 51:1-17, 2nd Corinthians 5:20-6:10, and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.  

Isaiah speaks to looking for the spirit of religious practice instead of simply following the “traditional” forms.  For me, this hit a political note.  It’s how I feel whenever someone says, “Make America Great Again,” while striking at the foundations of the things that have made us great, like freedom of the press, free speech, support for the poor, and equal rights.   

In my opinion, America is still great.  Those “good old days” weren’t really all that good.  We just hid all the problems behind closed minds.  The results of this election may be a blessing in disguise.  Perhaps we were becoming too complacent.  We thought all those bad old prejudices had been overcome.  Now we see they were just being hidden behind “political correctness.”  Apparently, a large percentage of our citizenry still held to those hateful ways of thought and feeling, they were just afraid to speak out because it was unpopular.  The festering boils of their bigotry, anger, and hatred needed to be lanced and drained.  Hopefully, this will lead to a healthier America.   

The Psalm passage is about the need for God’s forgiveness, the necessity of cleansing ourselves of sinful ways so that we can be forgiven.  This also touched home since we, as a nation, obviously need to cleanse ourselves of prejudice and selfishness.  

2nd Corinthians tells us that we, as Christians, are to be Ambassadors for God.  That it is our job to set examples wherever we go as to the way Jesus taught us we should live.  America has always set an example of equality and opportunity for the world.  We were a symbol of hope.  Lately, we seem to be the opposite.  We need to once again exemplify the words on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Matthew tells us not to perform acts of charity or worship in the hope of public acclamation.  Christ said, if we go about seeking praise from mankind for how religious we are, then we’ve gotten our reward in this life and have none in the life to come.  He urges us to pray in private and to keep our charitable contributions to ourselves so that we “lay up treasures in heaven.”  We are to be humble and serve the Lord, not bragging about what we do for others.

I’m sure there are deeper philosophical meanings buried in the text.  I know that I am not adequately prepared to understand the full meanings.  I still feel the sting of Literature classes that dug symbolism and allegory out of what seemed to me to be simple stories.  This is one of the reasons I am embarking on this journey.  I need to make an effort to more fully understand the scripture.   I still intend to go back to school and finish my religious studies degree but, that will have to wait until all my grandchildren are all old enough for school.  In the meantime, I will struggle along on my own.  I have many resource books.  I’ve been collecting them for the past four years.  It’s time to stop collecting and start studying.

 

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