In praise of Sistah Clara Alvarez & Under His Wings Social Ministry

http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=images+under+his+wings&qpvt=images+under+his+wings&FORM=IGRE#view=detail&id=C507FA5C9B2BCD53CE923A42EED2D5814AA79F66&selectedIndex=8

Sistah Clara Alvarez impels application of Matthew 5 [blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth and the Kingdom of Heaven] & Isaiah 58 [clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, liberate the oppressed] & Galatians 6:2 [blessed burden to support the helpless and powerless]   — via New Hope Christian Fellowship’s Under His Wings Ministry in downtown Hilo.     Thanks to her stewardship of this flagstaff ministry, we have a safety net for the forsaken of society.    

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Sistah Clara singlehandedly guides this ministry through daily trials & tribulations regarding patronage/funding/stigmatization.   She is my Mother Teresa of Calcutta.    Oprah is the “balm,”  but Oprah does not dwell amongst the lowest of the low, so to speak.     Sistah Clara lives amongst us all, especially creatures not large [in wealth], but small [in stature].    She is my Teresa of Calcutta.

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/in-praise-of-married-couple-sista-clara-and-herb-alvarez-and-sista-claras-under-his-wings-social-ministry/

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/in-praise-of-peacemakerproblem-solver-sista-clara-alvarez-proverbs-151-a-soft-answer-turns-away-wrath/

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marco-caceres/cleansing-the-temple-jesus-act-of-social-protest_b_2985707.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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Cleansing the Temple & Jesus

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During the week before Easter, in the midst of all the sacred processions, weird reenactments, vacationing and feasting, I always find it helpful to revisit the “cleansing of the Temple” story to try and understand its full significance and meaning — not only as it relates to the death of Jesus of Nazareth on Good Friday, but socially, politically and economically today. Note that in the synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), the incident comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry and is usually considered the action by Jesus that led to his arrest and ultimate execution. In the Gospel of John, the incident comes at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Traditionally, the story is interpreted as Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers and bird sellers as way to show his condemnation of using the Temple for the purpose of conducting business. The idea is that God’s Temple is holy and should only be used for prayer and worship — kind of like a church. On the surface, this interpretation makes complete sense. However, it is entirely possible that this take may be missing some facts that would change it rather dramatically.
In his book, “The Trial of Jesus,” Alan Watson notes:

“The sellers were there for the benefit of pilgrims who had come to sacrifice as Passover. Animals for sacrifice had to meet stringent requirements and would not be easily found by those coming for the festival if it were not for the sellers in the Temple precincts. No prohibition against buying sacrificial animals in the Temple existed, and Mishnah Shekalim 7.2 show incidentally that the presence there of the sellers was both lawful and known. The sale of doves for sacrifice in the Temple at any time was even controlled by Temple authorities.”

Jesus was an observant Jew. He would not have objected to the Temple system of making sacrifices to God. That was the accepted tradition for the Temple, and particularly so during the Feast of Passover, when Jewish pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s liberation from Egypt and to offer animal sacrifices. I think the reason traditional Christianity has taken the “anti-business in a holy place” interpretation is that it has not seen the incident from the Jewish perspective. It has perhaps failed to put “Jesus the observant Jew” in that story.

 

In their book, “The Last Week,” theologians Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan stress that Jesus’ consistent and primary message was to proclaim the coming of The Kingdom of God and to challenge the dominant political system: the Romans and their local collaborators (the ruling Jewish class dominated by the Sadducees, Pharisees and Scribes). That ruling class had its base of operations in the Temple.

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Jesus’ attack on the money changers and bird sellers was much more than an attack on simple tradesman. It was less about defiling the Temple with needed and commonly accepted money transactions and more about attacking the power structure of Jewish society at the time. The “den” of thieves refers to the safe haven of the thieves — the Roman collaborators who ran the Temple.

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Jesus’ teachings were mostly and consistently about social justice. They strongly opposed the domination system of the time and thereby probably any system that creates an elite and powerful class that keeps the masses poor and powerless — for whatever reason. Jesus was a social revolutionary, a radical. He wanted to change the status quo, and that of course ended up getting him into a heck of a lot of trouble — not because he was, you know, “God,” but because he was (to them) a mischief-maker who happened to have a small local following.

I often wonder what Jesus would think of the United States, capitalism and the International Monetary Fund. I wonder what he would think of the world’s free market system, where essentially the strong, influential and clever do very well and the vast majority of our brothers and sisters are either dying of hunger or are barely able to earn a living. I sometimes wonder if he would come down hard on neoliberal trade policies that hurt the poor in developing countries like Honduras so much.

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If we simply interpret the cleansing of the Temple story in the traditional manner, all you have is a critique against “defiling” a holy place of worship — a physical structure made of stone. The assumption is that somehow the Source of the universe, of all creation is offended by a few businessmen. I have no idea what to do with this lesson.

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However, if we interpret the story from the standpoint opposing the domination of the people by a small elite class (yeah, like in Honduras, and increasingly in the United States) collaborating with a foreign occupying power (Rome) and truly establishing the “Kingdom of God” on earth in the here and now, then the message is clear.

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We are called to transform our world by seeking justice, a fair distribution of the resources that God has temporarily “lent” us.

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I grant you, this is pretty radical stuff. It is revolutionary. It almost sounds dangerously un-American — certainly un-Republican. It is the kind of stuff that people who might try to implement this Way would likely be persecuted, even killed. Sound familiar?

 

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http://www.huffingtonpost.com/morgan-guyton/why-googles-war-on-easter_b_2990242.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

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So now we have a “war on Easter” in addition to the “war on Christmas.” Because curious Google viewers could click on the bio of a Christian social justice activist whose life exudes the meaning of Easter.

As might be expected, unofficial Southern Baptist pope Al Mohler had something to say about it:

al mohler chavez tweet

Honestly it felt random to see Cesar Chavez’s face on Google after spending my whole morning getting people to shout “Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed!” But I didn’t feel oppressed or offended. Duke’s basketball team played on Easter today (and got destroyed by Louisville :-(). I was sad that the players’ Easter was disrupted, but I didn’t boycott the game and I’ll bet many Christians who tweeted their outrage against Google also watched one of the tournament games today instead of spending the entire day singing praise songs.

Cesar Chavez was a labor organizer who started the United Farm Workers in California in the 1960s. He often mixed Christian spiritual practices with his political protests. Matthew Schmitz on First Things shares Chavez’s reflections about a 1966 march he organized under the slogan “Pilgrimage, Penitence, Revolution.”

The Delano March will therefore be one of penance–public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of lesser motivations.

If Google were trying to mount a secular protest against Christianity (which is what Al Mohler and the outragelicals seem to presume), then why would they have picked a guy who made “peace with the Lord” and “public penance” for “personal sins” the priority of one of his most famous political protests? I don’t think Chavez would be “profoundly insulted” as a Christian by Google’s choice to feature him on Easter. If he were still alive, he would exploit it as an opportunity to talk about Jesus. People who are truly humble don’t need to be theatrically self-effacing; they use the spotlight to testify about the cause they serve. I don’t think Jesus would be offended by Google either, because Jesus’ ministry constantly put the spotlight on people who were ignored and left out, like the migrant farm-workers Cesar Chavez fought for.

 

It’s a common piety within evangelical Christianity to say, “It’s not about you; it’s about Jesus.” That was how Jesus’ fellow 1st century Jews felt about keeping the focus on God for their weekly Sabbath. And that was why they get so offended when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. None of the people Jesus healed had life-threatening ailments that could not wait until one of the other six days of the week. By healing people not only on the Sabbath but smack in the middle of worship services, Jesus took the focus off of God and put it on the people who were being ignored and left out.

Can you imagine how disruptive it would be if your pastor stopped in the middle of a sermon to heal somebody with a withered hand? Jesus could have done it discretely, but he told the man to “stand in front of everyone” (Mark 3:3), quite literally making him the center of attention on the holy day that was reserved for God. Mark tells us that it was after this incident that “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (v. 6).

When you grow up evangelical, you’re taught that the Pharisees were offended by Jesus because they were legalist rule-followers and Jesus came to replace their “religion” with a more authentic “relationship” with God. That’s not fair to the Pharisees, as hard as Jesus was on them. They were genuinely zealous about honoring God with a rigorous pursuit of holiness in their daily lives and they were genuinely offended that Jesus would take the focus off of God on the Jewish holy day.

What they didn’t see is that their “focus on God” was really a focus on themselves. When your understanding of holiness is disembodied of your relationships with other people and defined exclusively in terms of a spiritual “cleanliness” by which you sacrifice earthly pleasures to honor a God who cares about His “glory” more than the people you’re ignoring, then it’s impossible to avoid being poisoned by a self-righteousness which ironically mocks God more than the reckless, undisciplined, debaucherous sinners Jesus ate and drank with. One of the things that many of today’s evangelicals share in common with the religious authorities who crucified Jesus is the way that their piety is built upon pitting love of God and love of neighbor against each other. How dare you talk about farm-workers today! This is the day to honor Jesus (and me since I’m His most zealous defender!).

Jesus says very plainly that we honor Him by honoring the least of His brothers and sisters. There is a tremendous value to fasting and other spiritual disciplines by which we focus our hearts on God, but worship of God is a mockery if it is not entirely interwoven with hospitality to our fellow human beings. God doesn’t let us play either/or with loving Him and our neighbors. The God who makes it righteous to ignore the people who are left out (since we’re supposedly focusing on Him) is a God projected by our privilege, no matter how much we try to mask this with the meanness we attribute to Him. Soli Deo gloria; Deus invenitur inter pauperum. Jesus is not stingy about sharing His resurrection with all of humanity. Why would he be stingy about sharing Easter with Cesar Chavez?

 

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5 Responses to In praise of Sistah Clara Alvarez & Under His Wings Social Ministry

  1. Pingback: Dismas to Gestas: “Have you no fear of God?” — in praise of erudite/experienced/sagacious Logos/Rhema disciple of Jesus — Herb Alvarez | Curtis Narimatsu

  2. Pingback: In praise of literalist and symbolist Herb Alvarez: John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. | Curtis Narimatsu

  3. Pingback: In praise of Herb Alvarez: The symbol [Scripture reading] is not the thing [prompting of the Spirit] it represents — True interpretation depends neither on historical inquiry nor on erudite literary analysis but on attentiveness to the promptings of

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  5. Pingback: In praise of Herb Alvarez: If you are a leader, do you lead your people to the throne (throne of God — Protestant) or do you force your people into retreat (from oppressive government — e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses)?? “Saving soulsR

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