Whatever happened to respectable poverty?

One of the weirdnesses of American conservative life is the way in which everyone tries to label themselves middle class or even upper middle class no matter how low their actual station and income.  Conservatives, even the very devout Christian sort, really do seem to buy into the “temporarily embarrassed millionaire” self-image.  So the idea that poverty is sometimes a thing that can happen even to people who work hard and live clean is lost, even though as recently as the 1970s in America it was still a whisper here and there (mostly of course in the context of black Americans, but not exclusively).  Living among the poor sincerely and functionally, not on a temporary basis where you go back to your high-income zip code a year later (there are easily half a dozen pastors I can think of who have done that kind of thing and dozens of non-pastors who think it’s “missional living” to do it for a few months), is something worth more than getting into a good school district via scrimping.

Americans have always recoiled from respectable poverty and only grudgingly accepted its existence, but in post-America, it’s worth remembering that poverty is always going to be with us until the Lord returns, so having it be respectable is better than having it be unrespectable.

This is the very model of a bagatelle.


1599 Geneva Bible Prayers, Morning Prayer part two


Part two…

And because thou hast commanded us to pray one for another, we do not only make request (O Lord) for our selves, and for them that thou hast already called to the true understanding of thy heavenly will, but for all people and nations of the world, who as they know by thy wonderful works, that thou art God over all, so they may be instructed by thy holy spirit, to believe in thee, their only Savior and Redeemer, but forasmuch as they cannot believe, except they hear, nor cannot hear but by preaching, and none can preach, except he be sent: therefore (O Lord) raise up faithful distributers of thy mysteries, who setting apart all worldly respects, may both in their life and doctrine only seek thy glory. Continually confound Satan, Antichrist, with all hirelings, whom thou hast already cast off into a reprobate sense, that they may not by sects, schisms, heresies, and errors, disquiet thy little flock. And because, O Lord, we be fallen into the latter days and dangerous times, wherein ignorance hath gotten the upper hand, and Satan by his Ministers seeks by all means to quench the light of thy Gospel: we beseech thee to maintain thy cause against those ravening Wolves and strengthen all thy servants, whom they keep in prison and bondage. Let not thy long suffering be an occasion, either to increase their tyranny, or to discourage thy children: neither yet let our sins and wickedness, be an hindrance to thy mercies, but with speed (O Lord) consider their great misery. For thy people Israel many times by their sin provoked thine anger and thou punishedst them by thy just judgement, yet though their sins were never so grievous, if thy once returned from their iniquity, thou receivedst them to mercy. We therefore most wretched sinners bewail our manifold sins, and earnestly repent us of our former wickedness, and ungodly behavior towards thee: and whereas we cannot of our selves purchase thy pardon, yet we humbly beseech thee for Jesus Christs’ sake, to shew thy mercy upon us, and receive us again to thy favor: Grant us dear Father these our requests, and all other things necessary for us, and thy whole Church, according to thy promise in Jesus Christ our Lord. In whose name we beseech thee, as he hath taught us, saying: Our Father which art in heaven, etc.


1599 Geneva Bible Prayers, Morning Prayer part one

A long time ago T.W.O. wanted to type or write up the prayers in the 1599 facsimile of the Geneva Bible that he brought into the marriage, can’t recall which.  In any case, that is a small thing I can use this blog for.  The script is difficult to read, and the texts aren’t online as far as I’ve found.  So I think this can be a nice occasional thing to post.

Something to remember is that Geneva Bibles were very DIY.  You went to the printer and received specifically what you requested.  So you could have a “Bible” that was only the Old Testament and a Psalter, as an example.  This lack of standardization is an interesting and curiously modern feature.  It also means what I copy in modern English is not necessarily from every 1599 facsimile available.

After the Sternhold-Hopkins Psalter in the facsimile we own, there follows a short list of prayers with this title: “A form of prayer to be said in private houses every Morning and Evening.”

This is part of the first one (asterisks are my best guess, the text is not always sharp enough to make out easily):

Morning Prayer

Almighty God and most merciful father, we do not present our selves here before thy Majesty, trusting in our own merits or worthiness, but in thy, manifold mercies, which [hath promised]* to hear our prayers and grant our requests, which we shall make to thee in the name of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who also hath commanded us to assemble our selves together in his name, with full assurance, that he will not only be amongst us, but also be our mediator and adjudicate to thy Majesty, that we may obtain all things which shall seem expedient to thy blessed will, for our necessities. Therefore we beseech thee sweet Father, to turn thy loving countenance towards us, and impute not unto us our manifold sins and offenses, whereby we most justly deserve thy wrath and sharp punishment, but rather receive us to thy mercy, for Jesus Christ’s sake, accepting his death and passion as a just recompense for all our offenses, in whom only thou art pleased, and through whom thou canst not be offended with us. And seeing that of thy great mercy we have quietly passed this night: Grant (O heavenly Father) that we may bestow this day wholly in thy service, so that all our thoughts, words, and deeds, may redound to the glory of thy name and good example of all men, who seeing our good works, may glorify thee our heavenly Father. And for as much as of thy mere favor and love, thou hast not only created us to thine own similitude and likeness, but also hast chosen us to be heirs with thy dear son Jesus Christ, of that immortal kingdom, which thou preparedst for us before the beginning of the world: we beseech thee to increase our faith and knowledge, and to lighten our hearts with thy holy spirit, that we may in the meantime live in godly conversation and integrity of life, knowing that Idolaters, adulterers, covetous men, contentious persons, drunkards, gluttons and suchlike, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Part Two of this prayer another day, translating on the fly into modern English is hard!

(Proper) Catechesis is love

What it says on the tin.

Proper catechesis is missing from most Christian practice, and it’s one of the reasons well-off Western Christians seem so hypocritical and awful to non-Christians looking in.  There are many ways to properly catechize people smart and stupid alike, but mostly they aren’t done or even considered important by all too many Christians, but it is important for Christians to receive proper catechesis and it is, simply, love.

Biblical Theocracy

A book review from The White Oppressor T.W.O.

It was June 5th 1989, less than thirty-six hours after the historic “Beijing massacre”, when the People’s Army complied with the Chinese government’s order to roll the tanks down the Avenue of Eternal Peace and through Tiananmen Square, to clear all debris from the nation’s political heart, whatever the cost. I was in the student canteen at Hong Kong Baptist College, picking at my rice box, sitting across from one of my students. Mee Mee had just struggled through a final exam on a day when many of the students, still in shock, had stayed home, unable to think about school­work when their homeland’s future was hanging in the balance. We were discussing whether or not the college should postpone the remaining exams until the political crisis cooled.
About six weeks earlier, near the beginning of the forty-nine day stu­dent protest that ended in tragedy, four well-meaning students had come to my office trying to persuade me to cancel my classes in support of the democracy movement in China. They were quite surprised at my rather unorthodox response, and went away perplexed at the idea that there should be a Westerner, a U.S. citizen no less, and a teacher of religion and philosophy, who actually claimed not to believe in democracy! Until then, I had normally kept to myself the political ideas which had been brewing in my mind over the past ten or twelve years, since voicing them usually met with just such reactions of offence and disbelief.

But here was Mee Mee, her heart torn in two over the recent events in China, not knowing whom to support. Her parents thought the Chinese government was in the right; she disagreed, yet found it hard to accept the equally extreme belief of the recent tendency in Hong Kong to view democ­racy as the final answer to mankind’s political quest. I bared my heart to her, telling her how I have always been the sort of person who is naturally in­clined to grasp his rights in the name of freedom and justice, and yet, how the results of such grasping rarely satisfy me. For if my struggle to defend my rights succeeds, I am often left with a strange sense of empti­ness or guilt; and if it fails, I am left with bitterness at having been treated unfairly. As our conversation developed, I realized that what she was so interested in discussing, others might also find challenging in this time of crisis.

Thus begins Biblical Theocracy, the most important book on politics and Christianity since Augustine’s City of God. (You can read it online for free in poorly formatted HTML.)

This is my favorite passage:

If we wish to adopt a form of Christianity consistent with the Bible, then we must seriously consider whether or not we are perhaps being deceived by our society and culture-and perhaps also by our own human selfishness-when we preach democracy as the panacea for all political problems. Aside from offering the citizen certain legal rights, most versions of democracy tell us we have the power and authority to claim for ourselves certain “inalienable rights”, such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Yet this is one of the greatest political lies ever told! Christianity is a religion of the cross, a religion whose founder taught that true life comes only to those who are willing to die [see e.g., Mat. 10:38-39; 16:24; cf. 1 Cor. 15:31]. Among other things, this means Christians are called to give up all rights: not just the basic right to “life”, but also rights such as “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness”. For the Bible repeatedly says Christians are to be “slaves of Christ” [e.g., Eph. 6:6; Rom. 6:22] and are to endure all manner of suffering for the sake of a future glory [see e.g., Rom. 8:18; 1 Pet. 2:18-4:19; and Chapter Six below]. How, then, can a Christian defend a political system which encourages its citizens to stand up and de­fend their “basic human rights”?

How indeed? If you are wondering in what sense this is practical:

And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.
1 Samuel 8:18

Poverty slumming and the devout Christian male’s failure to provide for a wife

Related to my little example breakdown from yesterday, this post is derived from comments I made on a “letter to the editor” post here in which a reader wrote in lamenting a false binary of his own making between poverty-wage ministry callings and making decent enough money to provide for a family.

It was a false binary because not all Christian men are called to poverty-wage ministry.  And further, it’s not the only holy or pious way to honor and serve God.  Some are called to be accountants.  It’s ok, someone has to earn enough to pay for the relative few who are spiritually and psychologically prepared for poverty-wage ministry.

As far as the lament in the post and some of the comments that Christian women are money-hungry and demand high earnings from a potential Christian husband, it costs a lot of money to (badly) compensate for the lack of relationships that even very poor people used to take for granted. It also takes a fair amount of money to compensate for the multi-decade assault on the domestic sphere.  The domestic isn’t valued any more, even among much of the conservative world, and compensating for that with expensive conveniences and machinery isn’t cheap or free.

The sense of entitlement in the idea that it’s ok to pursue an expensive but low-paying “mission” so long as you’re a man is not a bit better than a woman believing there is no other income bracket she deserves in marriage than the very highest one. That money has to come from people who do boring but higher-paying work and frankly there are already enough Christian men sidestepping their responsibilities by slumming it out of a confused belief that it’s a good thing to not be a hydrological engineer/accountant/etc and instead rack up 80k in debt for a divinity degree while subjecting a wife and children to an itinerant missions lifestyle.

There has been an explosion in religious degree accreditations and men shelling out tens of thousands in student loans to acquire same and “callings” to live in the ghetto or hop on the missions merry go round with a wife and family to support. Sometimes there are multiple systemic failures. You can have more than one group of people making bad decisions regarding racking up college debt and misunderstanding the nature of vocations and callings. Or you can just blame women and their cruddy liberal arts degrees and ignore the men messing up for different reasons that still lead to the same debt-drowned, economically fragile place.

The OP who wrote in to that blogger is confused and entitled in the very way that leads to the expensive poverty slumming above. There’s a strain of idolizing poverty slumming among many devout Christians and it does involve men leaving their 50-150k jobs to go be poor for Jesus. A nondenominational example is all the guys quitting their decent-paying jobs to plant churches (while also getting an expensive religious degree). Since the men doing this are devout, it’s a bigger problem for the Church than when a culturally Christian woman majors in liberal arts.

Without real patriarchy, it’s expensive to be functional as a single-income family and that plays into the thinking of a lot of Christian women. It’s not all consumption obsession.  They may not be able to articulate it, but women can see the exhausted SAHMs with lower household incomes and they subconsciously are likely to think that maybe a six-figure income can buy ways to get enough sleep when it’s 4am and this year’s baby is up for the sixth time that night.  Or maybe they think they would plump for a maid when the kids were little and constantly making messes.  Whatever their hazy, not-conscious thoughts, it’s not necessarily greed and laziness motivating their desires that a future husband earn a solid income in providing for their needs as SAHMs raising a passel of younguns and also keeping a house on top.

What women do now when they SAHM is cheaper than encouraging Christian SAHM hopefuls to marry well and youngish, but it’s not actually functional.