X

xMany years ago, I wrote an article in The King’s Jubilee newsletter about the Autobiography of Malcolm X, in which I recommended that every white man in America should read it. I got some feedback on that! Of course, the negative feedback was all from people who were too narrow minded to read it. Several people said that “everyone should read it!” That missed my point. To overcome racism, it is important to gain understanding from other perspectives. Malcolm X became a hero of mine not because I agreed with everything he said or did, but because he had the courage to live a self-examined life in public.  He was not so proud that he would not change his course when confronted with hard new truth.

I painted this with acrylics on 16″ x 20″ stretched canvas. It is available for sale at www.shoutforjoy.net

Tithing: 10% of what?

comic_greekfortitheIn recent years there has been a lot of talk in different circles relating to the tithe principle of the Mosaic Law. People think that a flat tax sounds fair.  Those who earn more would pay more. Those who earn less would pay less. This seems to make perfect sense on the surface, but when we examine the reality in the light of Scripture, it is not so simple.

Many evangelical churches and cults teach that one should give 10% of one’s income to the church. The Mormons require members to file an income tithe return to the church. Among evangelicals there is always the discussion of whether this tithe is to be on net or gross income. The practice of ‘tithing’ has now spilled over into the Antiochian Orthodox Church as Metropolitan PHILIP introduced it as a prescription for stewardship. Many people have rebelled against it, saying that it is not biblical, since it is from the Old Testament and we are not under the Law. Apparently, they have carried over their dispensationalism with them into Orthodoxy.

The tithe pre-dated the law of Moses. Moses only codified it for the Israelites and for our example. However they would be correct to say that a tithe on income is not biblical. It is, in fact, found nowhere in either testament. The concepts of measuring annual income and of income tax are quite modern, and thus, of necessity, measuring and giving a percentage of income must be modern as well. To be fair to Metropoiltan PHILIP, he was just trying to get Orthodox Christians to support the Church, on a level on par with how the “schismatics” support theirs. He was actually going easy on most members relative to what the New Testament standard for giving truly is. Dues paying is hardly New Testament, after all.

This is where things get exciting. For years, demagogues have been citing the Bible to support a flat tax, claiming that it would be fair, all the while knowing that it would favor their rich supporters, while shifting more of the tax burden onto the middle class and working poor. They got many people to support the concept, because it sounded fair and it sounded simple, and it resonated with what they ignorantly claimed the Scripture taught. The tithes of Moses (yes, there were three!) were on property, not on income. Furthermore, they were not the only taxes. No, they were not voluntary.

It always sounds fair and simple that everyone just pays 10%. What is interesting is that churches that teach “tithing” only receive on average about 2% of their members’ average income in offerings. That percentage is lower the wealthier the members are; a bit higher, the poorer the members are. People who have more money tend to hold onto it more tightly. The New Testament pattern for giving and that taught by the Church Fathers, most notably and most eloquently, St. John Chrysostom, is not tithing, but rather jubilary giving. It is not based on what one starts out with, but on what remains once one has given. What is right to give is determined by what is left. The goals are to further the Kingdom, to live in the Kingdom, to recognize that we own nothing, to use everything as stewards to further the will of God and His Kingdom, knowing that his mercies are new every morning. The Mennonites, Brethren, Amish, and Brethren in Christ used to all teach jubilary giving. When they did, their average giving compared to their members’ income was over 5%. This is still not great, but more than double the “tithing” churches.

I said that the Mosaic tithes were on property, not on income. This is an extremely important detail. This makes them much higher taxes. Every year, a tenth of the crops was to be paid to the Levites. Do not be distracted by the language in some translations that say the “increase” of the wheat, etc. to think that that means the net increase. It does not. It just means the yield of the land. There were no deductions for hired labor, for purchases of tools, for land rental, feed for draft animals, tool repair, work clothes, medical expenses, legal expenses, etc. It doesn’t even matter if there was a drought and one harvested less than one planted. 10% went to the Levites. That was not all. Actually before the harvest was taken, the first measure of grain was harvested and presented to the Lord as a wave offering. The harvest was also not done in such a way as to squeeze every last bushel of grain or fruit out of the field. It was an abomination before the Lord to harvest the corners of one’s field and not leave them for the poor to glean. It would result in being ejected from the congregation, in other words, losing one’s citizenship and inheritance and land.

When it came to the animals, they were all put in the corral and driven through a cattle shoot under the Levites’ rod. Every tenth one went to the Levites. This is interesting. It is by nature not regressive. It is not going to take a man’s lone cow. The tax only starts on a minimum herd of ten. Again, it matters not if the herd has increased or decreased during the year, or what the rancher or dairy farmer paid for feed; or how much he may have had to pay his hired help or what it cost to feed, house and clothe his slaves. One in ten went to the Levites, randomly. If he wants to redeem his prize bull from the offering, he must give an equivalent plus 20% as a substitute. This is all spelled out in Leviticus 27.

It is very interesting that there are going to be many who will read this and start screaming about ‘how is this relevant to a modern society’ and ‘do you want to drag us back to the stone age’ before giving up their concept of a flat tax that they claim to be just, because they think they took it from the Law of Moses or it resonates in peoples minds that it is from the Mosaic Law. You can’t have it both ways. Just because it is 10% or just because it is a flat tax, doesn’t mean it is fair. It all depends on what you are taxing to begin with.

Who decided that what happened last year is the only thing that is important? You could have a very good year and get nailed with high income tax, even though you had several years before where you had terrible years of losses and expenses. By the same token, you could have loads of money and no income at all last year, millions of dollars of assets. Is it right that you should be afforded all the privileges of protection and citizenship and community without paying your fair share? No. Not according to the Law of Moses, which was the only  model handed down to us by inspiration of God for a pattern for human government. The model we are given in the Mosaic Law for taxation is not an income tax at all, but a tax on actual property, so that everyone who has means bears their fair share.

A Saint for Our Time

Verily, we celebrate the memory of thy Prophet Nahum. Through him we implore thee, O Lord, save our souls.

By the mid 14th century the Byzantine Empire had accumulated quite a few enemies both external and internal. They had forgotten to let their theology inform their economy and government as in earlier days and it had cost them the empire. They had lost most of their territory to the Ottoman empire and most of their people to Islam. Then there was the civil war with Serbia, where they lost most of the remaining territory to Stefan IV. 100 years later Constantinople finally fell. When it did, the nobles and church leaders could not even raise an army among their own people, because they had neglected them for so long. Why should they come to the aid of the elites? It wasn’t their war.

It was during this time that there was a significant devotion to Prophet Nahum in the rural areas of Europe, in areas that felt oppressed and neglected by the powers that were vying for dominance. St. Nahum wrote a beautiful prophetic song about Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. It came to pass very specifically then. We are told that the Old Testament is given to us for our admonition and instruction. There are lessons and warnings for us so we do not repeat the mistakes of those nations. The Byzantine Empire fell and it is not coming back, just as it was prophesied to Nineveh: “trouble will not come a second time.”

There was a cult of the Prophet Nahum as the Byzantine Empire was waning and that is interesting. The parallel is not as compelling as it is to the USA today, however. The Byzantines were basically enjoying their privileged position and trying to hold on to the vestiges of a bygone era without understanding and applying the elements of the faith that had given them that greatness. The US, through its corporations, its banking, and its massive military presence and 10 to 15 active military engagements at any given time, controls, colonizes and oppresses an overwhelming majority of the world’s population and consumes the lion’s share of the world’s natural resources. The US likes to think of itself as bringing freedom, but it does not. In Yugoslavia, we brought death and elimination of most of the Christian population. In Iraq, the Catholics and Orthodox and Jews who had been living and worshipping there safely and undisturbed for generations have been killed or driven out and their temples burned. In Afghanistan, the heroin producers are the only ones who have benefited by the US occupation. In Syria, we are supplying arms to massacre Christians. Our plants in India and Africa pollute and kill the ground. We export death in our GMO seeds and Round-Up. We are the only nation that openly discusses and approves of torture methods. Internally, we incarcerate more of our own people than any nation in history, with a strong racial bias against blacks and Latinos. Income disparity is well beyond the tipping point at which other empires (including the Byzantine) have fallen. Upward mobility has vanished. Elections have become a sham due to gerrymandering and dirty tricks and corporate ownership of lawmakers. So-called Christians have been more concerned with being blue or red than being Christian, so have lost effective witness.

We have become a pariah state.

Judgment is coming.

Nahum 3

Woe to the city of blood, full of lies,
full of plunder, never without victims!
The crack of whips, the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry, flashing swords and glittering spears!
Many casualties, piles of dead,
bodies without number,
people stumbling over the corpses—
all because of the wanton lust of a prostitute,
alluring, the mistress of sorceries,
who enslaved nations by her prostitution
and peoples by her witchcraft.
“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty.
“I will lift your skirts over your face.
I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame.
I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
All who see you will flee from you and say,
‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’
Where can I find anyone to comfort you?”
Are you better than Thebes,
situated on the Nile, with water around her?
The river was her defense,  the waters her wall.
Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength;
Put and Libya were among her allies.
10 Yet she was taken captive  and went into exile.
Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner.
Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains.
11 You too will become drunk;  you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy.
12 All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken,
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
13 Look at your troops—
they are all weaklings.
The gates of your land  are wide open to your enemies;
fire has consumed the bars of your gates.
14 Draw water for the siege,
strengthen your defenses!
Work the clay,
tread the mortar,
repair the brickwork!
15 There the fire will consume you;
the sword will cut you down—
they will devour you like a swarm of locusts.
Multiply like grasshoppers,
multiply like locusts!
16 You have increased the number of your merchants
till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky,
but like locusts they strip the land
and then fly away.
17 Your guards are like locusts,
your officials like swarms of locusts
that settle in the walls on a cold day—
but when the sun appears they fly away,
and no one knows where.
18 King of Assyria, your shepherdsslumber;
your nobles lie down to rest.
Your people are scattered on the mountains
with no one to gather them.

19 Nothing can heal you;
your wound is fatal.
All who hear the news about you
clap their hands at your fall,
for who has not felt
your endless cruelty?

Rent Party at Charming House

charming gateWhen a realtor describes a house as charming, we have four words of advice: RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! Our house is charming. It is possibly the oldest house in town. The new part was built in 1845 to be the hotel for the railroad when it came through. The last owner was an Irish woodworker. He did some lovely work on the trim. He made a nice back door and beautiful window over the kitchen sink. Why he used single pane glass is beyond me. He restored the hardware to period. He did level the floor in one of the rooms. He made it into one house out of three tiny apartments. (sort of) It still had three electric meters with two wire, knob and tube and old romex to much of the house.

The oil burner was on its last. The old iron pipes to the upstairs bathroom were mostly occluded. The drains weren’t much better, but the switch plates had fairies and waterlilies on them. The wood trim in the kitchen has charming little crosses drilled in it. I have basically replaced the heat system, the plumbing and the electrical service. I am working on rewiring, bit by bit, sorting out the mess. I won’t even start on the shape of the barn. But they say the value of real estate is mainly location. It is a great location.

We were rebuilding the barn to make the ministry and the business more efficient. Then I got sick. That messed everything up. There have been a series of setbacks. Bishop Thomas really wants to see a team of college kids come here to help finish the barn. I don’t know how that is going to happen. Bethann lost her job last summer. We have to pay for Cobra health insurance out of pocket. That takes more than her Unemployment Compensation. We had the court case against the city to keep the ministry going. that put the business on hold and hurt the business. We were both sick around Christmas, so that hurt the business. I was very sick last month, so that hurt the business again. We are on the verge of being able to make some major progress in helping the homeless in Philadelphia, if we had a basic facility there and could be full time working at that, instead of being distracted by the icon business. At the same time, we are on the verge of possibly losing our house, losing our current base of operations, and joining the ranks of the homeless ourselves.

So we are making an appeal.

We are having a rent party this Saturday evening, March 16, starting at 6:30. Since it is Cheesefare Sunday next week, we will be serving vegetarian chili, “Tender Hearted Shepherd’s Pie” (vegan), some cheese and veggies, chips and dip, dessert, etc. The $10 cover charge includes the food and soft drinks. Beer and wine will be available for additional donations. If you want to play an instrument to add to the festivities, please make it unplugged. Kevin Paige is bringing his guitar and his keyboard and his great talents to make music. We are hoping that the Ackers will favor us with some music as well. We are clearing out the furniture, so if you want to dance, you may.

We live at:
27 North Front St.  (in the middle of beautiful downtown)
Souderton, PA 18964

Call or email to let us know if you plan to attend, so we know how much food and drink to prepare.
phone: 267:497-0267
cjoseph@shoutforjoy.us  (If you can’t attend, but want to help, you can Paypal gifts to this email. If it is designated as a gift from one Paypal account to another, neither one is charged fees. Thanks! God bless you!)

Here is the link to RSVP on Facebook.

It’s a cheap date for a good cause. We are going to try to have green beer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Hey, I was tickled that the first one to RSVP to say that he was coming was Philly rock legend Kenn Kweder! Please come join the fun.

“What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?”

That was the question Nick Lowe asked in his song made popular by Elvis Costello. It is a serious question that  needs to be pressed especially hard to professing Christians these days. Jesus is proclaimed as the Prince of Peace! At Christmas we sing songs of “glad tidings of peace and good will among men.” Of course, in recent years, with the rightward turn of many in the pulpit, it has been stressed that “a more accurate translation of the Greek would be ‘peace to men of good will.'” I don’t know how this revision sits with Jesus’ message of turning the other cheek and going the second mile and forgiving those who have wronged you 70 times seven times in a day. I really don’t think he was worried we were going to be overzealous in our peacemaking. I wonder what the original Aramaic said. I’m sticking with the Christmas carol and the King James Version on this one, and the testimony of the whole direction of God’s word and Jesus’ ministry.

God came into the world not just to bring peace to good people. It’s a good thing, because none of us are that good. Christ is our peace, not only with God, but to bring peace to the nations:

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:14-18)

The first petition of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom of the Orthodox Church is “For the peace from above, and for the salvation of our souls, let us pray to the Lord.” This is foundational, because the Scripture says “God does not hear the prayers of sinners.” The second petition where our real work as a kingdom of priests starts is: “For the peace of the whole world; for the good estate of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all mankind, let us pray to the Lord.”

What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding, indeed!? We pray for them, right there at the beginning of every Liturgy: the peace part is obvious; love: when the churches are in good order, they are sharing the love of God through good works and breaking down walls of discrimination and ethnic and national hatred; and bringing all to unity in mutual respect and equality under God.

So why are so many of my Christian brothers and sisters so nationalistic and promoting the use of assault weapons to overthrow a government that might make you buy insurance for your employees? Why are so many of them racist? Why are so many talking of secession and stirring up anger and hatred just because their candidate didn’t win an election? Why do so many people think its OK to follow a bitter, atheist, immoral, hypocritical Ayn Rand as a moral leader in economics and totally ignore the teachings of Moses, the Prophets, Jesus and the Apostles? Or divorce them, by saying one is for private life and the other is for public life? How very De Peche Mode of you? You have your “own personal Jesus” but He has nothing to say about how we conduct civic life? The slave holders of the 19th century would solidly agree with you. It was the abolitionists who held that Jesus and the Prophets were going to call the nations to account, that dragged this country, kicking and screaming, into the modern age.

We need to revisit the Scriptures to unearth our sense of justice. We have lost our way. We have left Christianity and become Americans only. We have bought into the myth of the rugged individual. We think that if we can choose wisely, and get the right education, and land the right job, or invent the right gizmo, we can end up on top. Reality check. America now has the second lowest chance of upward mobility after England. Our middle class is disappearing at an alarming rate. Our income disparity between employers and workers is many times that of Mexico’s. That wall we are building will soon be keeping us in, if we do not do something quickly to correct things.

American Christianity has been very pietistic and individualistic to the point that modern evangelicalism is so disembodied as to be gnostic. Christianity’s roots, however, are not so. Hebrew did not have separate words for just and right or justice and righteousness. The singular and the corporate or the personal and the societal were so intertwined. The Bible is not just concerned about personal morality; it is concerned about social responsibility. God is not just going to judge individuals for their personal stewardship. He is going to judge the nations for their economic justice: their treatment of the poor. Read the Prophets. They still apply. Jesus did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Our righteousness is to exceed that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, not mimic Rome.

We will examine the tithes of the Mosaic Law. Yes. There were more than one. We will look at the sabbath years, the gleaning rules and the Jubilee, to see a pattern of second chances, economic redistribution, and social justice, that God was setting forth as a pattern for the nations. We will see how God reinforced this message through the captivity and the warnings of the prophets to the nations. It was no accident that Jesus used the Jubilee song of Isaiah to introduce his earthly ministry. It was also not surprising that the entrenched political powers immediately wanted to stone him for preaching that kind of radical redistribution. St. James preached economic equality, as did St. Paul. We will include a few quotes from the Fathers and some examples from the Byzantine Empire. The point is not to push a particular party’s agenda. The point is to get people to think about economic justice and social justice in a more Christian way and bring that to the debate. We need to do like the old preacher told us to do: “Quit your meanness!”